Tech needs to help, not hinder, your in-store experience

Adding tech to the retail equation can have interesting consequences for in-store experience and service, as Starbucks recently discovered when mobile coffee ordering turned out to cause in-store delays. 1200 Starbucks stores now receive over 20% of their orders via the Mobile Order & Pay option – last year it was only 13. That’s a pretty phenomenal explosion in popularity that could catch anyone on the back foot. It’s not hard to imagine similar scenarios playing out in other retail situations – you wouldn’t want to offer Buy Online Pickup In-Store without getting some fairly robust fulfillment systems in place first - so the addition of tech to the store environment is something brands should be prepared for.

Essentially: a unified view of commerce should take the real world experience into account, especially when it’s already ticking along nicely without the proposed technology.


Respect the experience

How does the ordering process currently work? In this case staff at the counter take the order, the barista makes the order and the customer moves to the pickup area to wait. Staff can manage the queue if necessary to mitigate the effects of rushes and quiet spells. And because the customer is in the store for the entire process, she can judge the length of the wait before placing an order and has a pretty fair idea how long she’ll need to stick around before getting her coffee. Additionally, customers know their place in the queue and expect orders to be ready in the same order they were placed.

With mobile order-store pickup, the opportunity to set customer expectations about prep and wait time can be lost as people order without entering the store, then go directly to the collection point. There’s no chance for staff to finesse the queue to keep orders moving at a manageable pace. Customers can no longer intuit when their order might be ready, given that mobile orders may have been placed in between any – or every – order placed by customers in the store queue. Unsurprisingly, traffic jams and frustration can result, and so the in-store experience suffers.


Minimize frustrations

Where the in-store experience is going through significant periods of tech-led transition – especially from a well understood and functioning model, it’s important to manage expectations. The very excellent news is the tech you’re adding can offer you additional ways to do that.

In the case of mobile coffee ordering, you most likely have the data on time from order placement to pick-up, so give customers some indicator of expected wait time, and warn when unexpectedly high orders have resulted in delays. There may even be a place for a pizza-style order tracker that shows the progress from order through to availability for pickup, allowing customers to time their arrival at the store. Starbucks obviously has a sophisticated loyalty system so compensating loyal customers for a longer than average wait is one option to offset the inconvenience.

It also makes sense to find a way to keep customers occupied during the wait. People with nothing to do in queues think they’ve been in them for much longer than they actually have, and perception of wait time is a major influencer of customer satisfaction (actual wait time is surprisingly less so). Digital displays can be used to provide distractions (including but not limited to promotions and product information) and can potentially be customized to those waiting in line - and social, competition and gaming elements in the app or on the website may also prove valuable (remember folks, QR codes aren’t dead).


Optimize the transaction

We’ve probably all bought something we didn’t intend to when we intended to grab just a coffee. Maybe a new batch of scones came out as we walked in, or maybe we spent our time in a slower-than-average queue staring at a particularly delicious looking donut and eventually caved in. We know how impulse buying works, but that doesn’t stop most of us for falling for it now and then; there’s a reason coffee shops run the queue past the food cabinets. That part of the experience is absent if people only drop in to pick up a drink.

One of the challenges for stores moving to mobile ordering is making sure they’re not missing out on a higher check by focusing solely on the immediate transaction. We know that customers using BOPIS in retail tend to add more items to their order when picking up, and the same can be encouraged for coffee orders. Customers can be shown daily specials, new items or combo upgrades when they place their coffee order in the app, or receive a push message with an add-on offer along with the notification their drink is ready to be picked up.

Taking it a step further, rewarding purchases with loyalty points and other incentives is now a well-established practice in digital loyalty – one that is proven to get customers back in store and buying more. And one of the bonuses of mobile tech is you already know when your customers are nearby, and when they’re most likely to drop by – making it that much easier to time the scones.


The real world is still really important

Minor coffee delays due to the unexpected popularity of mobile ordering will likely turn out to be a very minor blip in the Starbucks story, but it does serve to highlight an important point. Tech is cool, yes, and generally useful. But for stores – coffee shops and QSRs and other retail brands that rely on a steady flow of customers – the in-store experience is critical. Reinvent and reimagine by all means, but technology has to make it better, not undermine it, if it’s going to pay off.