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The economic downturn, coupled with near-universal adoption of mobile web devices, has permanently changed the way consumers shop. Shopping trips begin online or at in-store kiosks, and price comparisons and coupon searches via a variety of mediums are increasingly commonplace.
Post-recession consumers are looking for relationships they can trust with convenience store retailers. They are guarding their resources and have changed their shopping paradigm to a direction that is more selective and targeted. While it is generally the "brand" that has brought consumers back to the shopping environment, it is the "experience" at the convenience store that builds loyalty and will keep them coming back.
Social media and mobile shopping initiatives may be enough to lure consumers into convenience stores, but digital in-store engagement must be at the heart of a convenience store's strategic cross-channel execution.
Focus on the Total User Experience
PricewaterhouseCoopers studied post-recession shoppers in its report, "The New Consumer Behavior Paradigm: Permanent or Fleeting," and found that retailers must leverage their marketing, merchandising and positioning to push those offerings that are "need to haves" and build a case for the "must haves."
Although most people rely on cell phones in their everyday lives, this is a tall order in the context of a three-inch screen. From the perspective of a c-store retailer, this goal is attainable when elements are integrated and employ a variety of digital media, kiosks and in-store merchandising.
Consumers expect every contact with the brand across all channels -- online, in-store or in-hand -- to be consistent and coordinated. They expect their needs and brand access to be met without limitations on a particular channel. The "brand" means more today than it did as little as just three years ago, and it encompasses all the interactions -- mobile, digital and physical -- consumers have with c-stores.
Interactive merchandising, whether delivered by a kiosk, tablet, Android application (app) or digital media, is no longer an add-on option for the early adopter; it is now a crucial differentiator in all retail environments, including the c-store setting.
All c-stores and brands have access to the same marketing, merchandising and technology resources. It is the savvy and experience with which they employ these means to create awareness, satisfy and delight consumers, and convert shoppers into loyal buyers, that will translate to success.
The technologies employed should include a combination of mobile apps, managed Wi-Fi solutions, multichannel interactive digital signage, loyalty applications and back-office, as well as employee-focused applications such as video intelligence and real-time analytics. All of these technologies should communicate through a scalable platform that allows the c-store retailer to maintain seamless brand consistency throughout the experience.
As part of a multichannel marketing strategy, the use of multi-touch technology allows c-store retailers to make a portion of the in-store experience as familiar to consumers as the mobile devices they carry with them every day. By integrating the experience of smartphones with multi-touch interfaces, in-store shopping now becomes as natural and easy to use as the fastest-growing consumer products in recent memory.
There are a plethora of benefits to multi-touch technology, many of which focus on the user experience. Taken together, these elements result in more informed, more efficient and more engaging in-store interactions.
Key elements to a multi-touch experience include:
- Familiar interface -- The familiar interaction of a smartphone touchscreen lends itself to redefining the in-store user interface. Interactive applications can emulate mobile device applications, using similar gestures and responses. The result is an opportunity to create content that is dynamic and engaging to use.
- Clean, industrial design -- Removing the front bezel from the monitor allows multiple design and installation alternatives. A multi-touch monitor can be embedded into a wall or any other flat surface. Customers can use interactive content not at a standalone kiosk, but actually embedded in the product display. It is possible to create interactive video spaces within a c-store environment. Monitors can be tiled together to create content that is bigger than a single monitor, without concern about the interruption to the visual continuity caused by the bezel.
- Multi-user options -- The natural extension of multi-touch screens is the ability for multiple users to touch the same screen. This accommodates a system design with two or four different screen regions built around different information. Each region can be active at the same time -- in essence, creating four independent interactive areas with one screen.
- Cleanliness -- When the entire surface of the touch monitor is glass, the cleanliness of the interactive element improves significantly. Removing the monitor bezel removes areas where dirt, fluids and bacteria collect.
- Durability -- A projected capacitive monitor can be placed in a range of environments not previously practical for touch input. Projected capacitive monitors will continue to work, even with surface damage or in the extreme case of a broken cover glass. Uptime improves, therefore improving return on investment and the total number of interactions per measurement period.
Digital in-store engagement and interactivity is a key contributor to the consumer's experience in the c-store. The design of the interactive element needs to reflect the "brand" that is the c-store, and offer a "call to action," an engagement that is consistent with the c-store's marketing and merchandising strategy.
Gene Halsey has more than 15 years of expertise in the touchscreen industry. He is the product line director for Touch Revolution's TRū line of projected capacitive multi-touch monitors.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.