Monday, May 12, 2008

In-Store Search Solutions Empowers Shoppers To Navigate Aisles

By Amanda Ferrante, Assistant Editor

Online search has become an integral part of the way consumers shop. The same concept is coming to life for brick-and-mortar retail stores with new and innovative ways to search and navigate. With the buzz centered on the customer experience, it’s become increasingly important for retailers to provide consumers with simple convenience and assistance.

In-Store Navigation Creates More Focused Shopping
For some retailers with complex environments, in-store search kiosks are helping consumers navigate their way through the store to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. “Customers are increasingly time poor,” says Jim Dion, founder and president of Dionco Inc.. “They don’t have time to wonder through a store; they are targeted. Looking at this consumer need and behavior, in-store search clearly plays in.”

In 135 Longs Drugs Stores, Evincii’s PHARMAssist, a first-of-its-kind technology, is designed to guide and advise shoppers in the over-the-counter medicine category by engaging customers. The kiosk is said to have boosted overall category sales by 3-6%. Advertisers also have seen a boost in overall brand sales as the kiosk allows advertising to engage consumers at the point of sale, with a 7-18% increase. “The search engine can be used in many forms of retail,” says Charles Koo, CEO of Evincii. “What prompted me to do this was my frustration with entering keywords and receiving so many results.”

Many items are competing together on the same shelf. So marketers want to influence consumers at the point of decision. PHARMAssist caters to non-tech savvy users by offering simplicity and ease of use. “Our GPS system is always one or two steps ahead of you, getting you straight to your destination,” says Koo.

PHARMAssist and other products like it will help marketers improve their brand image and loyalty. “There’s a huge opportunity for brands to get involved in educating the customer,” says Dion. “That’s a win-win for everybody...Smart brands will get involved in that.”

Guided Navigation Leads Shoppers to Specific Products
Similar to shopping on the Internet, consumers can get help finding the right product via in-store guided navigation solutions. Endeca’s Guided Navigation solution is designed to help customers in multiple ways. “Guided Navigation is a complement to search – and works in tandem – but is really designed to facilitate exploration and discovery while search is more designed for fact finding,” says Jesse Goldman, Global Retail Industry Lead at Endeca. Rather than confuse or frustrate customers by the plethora of choices during a shopping trip, the solution is designed to ask target questions to further assist. “Guided Navigation does this by revealing next step questions using criteria like price, make, model, features, shopper reviews/rating, etc. So you can fine tune a search or simply browse products by the criteria that matters most to your buying decision,” says Goldman.

In-store search and navigation solutions also can provide retailers with traffic and usage information. Then retailers can tailor their strategies and tactics accordingly. “Reports provide detailed business intelligence to merchants, telling them popular search and browse pathways, effec­tive merchandising options, common ‘drop out’ spots, and missed search­es,” says Goldman. “Reporting helps businesses keep in step with their constantly chang­ing customers by suggesting where to tune merchandising or configure search and navigation options.”

Technology Creates In-Store Changes
New technology typically means a new shift for the in-store environment. With a technology designed to help customers, there’s speculation about how the store associate’s role will change.

“Ultimately, [the technology is] doing the job that a sales associate in the past would have done,” says Dion. “If the business model is designed to eliminate sales associates, then those people must be replaced with some sort of technology. This is a good way of doing that.”

While the technology may cut down on the number of sales associates needed, it will likely never completely replace them. So, the remaining store associates can use the technology to make their jobs easier, says Dion. “They no longer have to know where every item is located, and it will help improve their search with customers – almost like a cheat sheet.”

Some industry executives are hesitant to predict the technology will cut down on the need for store associates. “It's doubtful that search technology will have any impact upon store staffing, since most retailers already use the fewest possible payroll hours,” says Mark Lilien, consultant with Retail Technology Group. “American shoppers are self-service habitu├ęs who get their in-store information by glancing at labels. Shoppers who really value research do Internet queries at home, or talk to their doctors and friends.”