Neiman Marcus Is Merging Brick and Click for a Better Shopping Experience

Retailers will turn to the latest technology to create better ecommerce experiences – that’s almost a given. Customer profiles, order histories, wish-lists, behavior – all this information is relatively simple these days to track and store online, and from it personalized experiences can be delivered.

But the problem for today’s retailers is that the modern-day consumer is increasingly expecting these same personalized experiences to be carried seamlessly through to the moment when they actually set foot inside the physical store.

A recent study from Accenture – which surveyed 750 U.S. consumers and a separate 150-question survey of 32 U.S. retailers – reveals that while 45% of consumers would like to receive real-time promotions delivered to their handheld devices when shopping in-store, only 28% of retailers are actually delivering this service. Indeed, when asked what is the biggest improvement that retailers could make, 32% of those surveyed agreed that it was the mergence of mobile with the in-store shopping experience.

Neiman Marcus Wants to Bring Online Experiences to the Store

When consumers enter a store today, the growing expectation is that their online customer profiles to follow them. Ecommerce retailers are now making great use of sophisticated technologies that enable automated personalized greetings and recommendations for returning online customers. The challenge, however, is bringing that same level of service to those same customers on the shop floor.

This is something that luxury department store Neiman Marcus has been working hard to deliver.

"A lot of [what we're doing] has been about trying to bring the things that online has to offer into the store," said Scott Emmons, enterprise architect of Neiman Marcus' innovation lab, iLab. "I think it's safe to say our e-comm team has been on the leading edge, taking advantage of technologies as they come along and mature. What I do see happening is we are focused on taking advantage of delivering new experiences in the store, too."

Using Apple’s Passbook (now Apple Wallet) the company tested Bluetooth beacons in three stores last year that help guide customers to in-store sales. The dream-goal for the retailer is to deliver the most accurate, the most relevant and the most personalized information to the customer’s smartphone as they browse the physical aisles on foot – in much the same way that Neiman Marcus’s website does.

Online, the retailer knows exactly what products its customers have been looking at, how long they have been looking at them, their shopping histories, browsing histories, etc., etc., – and with this information, personalization is delivered.

What Neiman Marcus wants to do, however, is use beacon technology so that a customer is recognized and greeted on their smartphone as soon as they step inside the store, and then directed to items that they have been looking at online, truly combining the on- and offline experience. Furthermore, in-store, when the customer walks past an item – a pair of shoes for instance – that just went on sale, Neiman Marcus wants to alert them. Then, at the checkout, additional offers can be generated – the cashier might be informed, for example, that this is a loyal customer and a special discount should be given.

But Emmons wants these personalized recommendations to go even further.

"You place [beacons] throughout the store and then your mobile app can react to the customer's location," said Emmons, who spoke at the National Retail Federation's annual conference in New York. "We know you're at my door, walking through it, so I can appropriately greet and message you. We can know when you're two feet from something. You might be at checkout, and we could make an additional offer. We might say, 'Hey, you're near the restaurant and there's a chef there signing cookbooks today.'"

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It’s Customer Experience that Counts

As ambitious and tech-savvy as Neiman Marcus and the iLab team are, ultimately, they’re treading carefully. Emmons wants to know that the customer experience really is being enhanced by in-store digital innovations, for he acknowledges that although some new technologies can be exciting, if they don’t actually solve a real problem for the customer, then there is no economical grounding for implementing it.

“First and foremost, we’re interested in technology that adds value for the customer. My mantra is, does this solve a real problem for my customer, or does this enhance the relationship between Neiman Marcus and the customer?” Emmons told eMarketer. “From the business side, it has to be economically viable. We’ve certainly looked at technology that just wasn’t economically viable for us, even though it seemed awesome. Technology also has to be supportable and scalable. If we have it in multiple stores, we have to make sure that it’s working as expected in all of those locations.”

It is for this reason that Neiman Marcus took a soft launch approach to their new beacon technology in just a single Dallas store earlier in the year – now integrating the Neiman Marcus app, as opposed to Apple Wallet. Following the test and gathering feedback, the iLab team will then decide whether the technology should be rolled out.

"Part of the process is learning what we can do, what helps the customer and what they respond to, and what they don't like so we can stop doing that," Emmons told Computerworld. "We want to step lightly. Just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should do it."

Neiman Marcus knows that it needs to make the in-store experience as dynamic as possible. But adding customer value and solving pain-points remains as the ultimate driver of innovation.

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About John Waldron: John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.

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