Thursday, 27 August 2015

Enhancing mall experience by leveraging technology

Of late, there have been several murmurs on the death of brick-and-mortar retailing thanks to the success of e-commerce. But there can be no denying that while online shopping is price-related, the brick-and-mortar model is all about social interactions. Hence, malls have evolved beyond ‘shopping destinations’ and are offering an entertainment element along with retail options. Additionally, there are some clear differentiators that cater to the different needs of the shopper.

For instance, ‘sales’ which are available both online and at shopping malls see customers preferring to visit the retailer at a mall for that all-important touch and feel element. One of the main drawbacks of a sale is that usually a product once purchased cannot be replaced, therefore, especially for an emergency purchase, it is the mall that a customer prefers to go to so as to handle the product in person before investing in it.

Even though online shopping is growing, customers still prefer to see and feel the product since it helps them determine a product’s relevance for themselves. Also, customers most often have to make a decision of purchase on faith while shopping online, hoping that the features, quality and materials listed are true to their word. At the mall, they can not only judge this for themselves, they can also browse through other brands before taking a decision. Most online portals need up to a week and sometimes more to deliver a product. Speedier deliveries when promised are only available for a few select items on the site.

Earlier, visiting a mall was a rather prestigious affair, not any more. These days, “malling” has come to be everybody’s favourite pastime. That’s because apart from shopping, malls also offer various other options such as dinning, entertainment and movies that help customers enjoy an active social life as well as spend quality time with friends and family. So, consumers today prefer malls not only for shopping, but also to hang out. Malls have ceased to be a marketplace for just selling and buying; they have evolved into community centres. This appeals to customers across all age groups as it gives them the advantage to experience everything at one place.

Rising incomes and enhancement in infrastructure have led to an expansion in consumer markets and resulted in accelerating the convergence of consumer tastes. With increasing income, consumers are becoming more mature and now demanding superior quality and premium brands that inspire trust and loyalty.

Hence, malls are adopting innovative techniques for turning a simple shopping trip into a social event. The design and architecture of a mall is also a vital tool which can be used to ensure an enjoyable experience, additionally attracting and retaining customers with its various well-placed offerings. The basic factors to be considered are enough space for shopping, preventing bottlenecks, using creative interiors and a welcoming ambience. Carefully designed malls also satisfy and cater to the requirements of today’s customer who is conscious about the environment.

It is non-debatable that digitalisation is the need of the hour today and the demand of customers. As the world gets increasingly dependent on technology, we find people have easier access to internet than electricity or water. Hence, to be relevant in this growing digital world, one of the solutions is to collaborate with retailers to use technology as the means to create the next-gen shopping experience for customers. For example, when the renowned global apparel brand, Zara, launched their shopping app, they included a barcode scanner feature. The app helps the customer scan an item on display at the Zara store and access detailed information about it, including if a size or alternate colour not available at the store at the moment can be bought online.

This innovation not only helps customers judge the product’s quality for themselves at the store but due to the added online connectivity, it further enhances the experience. Such innovations should be implemented so that customers experience a unique experience while shopping at the retail stores.

Rather than considering the 35 million online shoppers in India today as a challenge, shopping malls can use this to their benefit. Digital platforms and social media are now being used in several innovative ways to enhance customer experience at malls, especially by way of apps which consumers can access on the go. They can stay constantly updated with the entertainment, shopping, dining options available at a mall. Not just that, they also get notifications on all the available discounts, special offers and events at the mall. Customers can also provide feedback through the app for malls to improve and evolve along with customers’ choices. The attempt is to stay connected with customers and keep them informed about all that is on offer. Not just apps, there are also social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter through which malls can conduct various contests, quizzes and games. This helps increase the frequency of visits and boosts customer loyalty.

What is important to remember is that in the Indian context, shopping is often related to momentous events. Celebrations, festivals, weddings, birthdays or simply an occasion for friends and family to commemorate, results in the process of buying something new, getting a sense of ceremony. This can only be felt in person and not a computer click. Therefore, adopting such approaches and ideas will help shopping malls create an enhanced experience for their customers and maintain that special bond which is vital to maintaining their appeal.

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