Technology is Transforming Retail Customer Service

Customer Service and Technology

I’d like to think that the two could work together–technology and retail– but in my opinion this is not the case. I first started taking note while shopping and seeing self-checkouts pop up around town. Don’t get me wrong, these are great when you have to run into your local Kroger or Safeway for an item or two and don’t want to wait in a long line, but I miss the minimalistic chitchat with the cashier.

As technology becomes a larger part of our daily activities–if that is even possible–you will begin to notice this lack of personal interaction taken to a whole new level.

Customer Service Free Future via Technology

  • Self-checkouts can be found almost anywhere you shop; from Target to the local grocery store. They are even appearing in restaurants. The hostess walks you to your table and you order on a tablet, then the server brings your food and refills drinks, after you are done eating, you can pay on the tablet and leave. The convenience store industry is not far behind when it comes to implementing similar technology. Major industry players, such as Pilot Flying J, have been heading down this path for a few years already. Ken Parent, Pilot Flying J’s executive vice president of operations explained their thinking to CSP: “We are focused on giving our customers choices to make their experience with use more convenient. If they want to get in line and checkout at the counter, they certain can. If they want to get in and out quickly, they can be checked out on a mobile device, and if they want an assisted self-serve checkout, we will give them that option, too.”
  • Amazon Go is a new brick and mortar concept being tested by behemoth online retailer in an effort to get its share of the ever increasing lucrative convenience store industry profits. The new c-store concept features new “Just Walk Out Technology” which allows a customer to walk into Amazon Go, shop and walkout of the store without lines or checkouts. Everything you take off the shelf is loaded into a virtual cart and is automatically charged to your Amazon account. No more anxiously waiting in line when you’re running late. Similar to Pilot Flying J’s mobile checkout, versions of this technology could be applied to c-stores to help expedite customers on their way out of the store.
  • Salesperson free shopping is an emerging trend. I was visiting family in Milwaukee and an ad came on the radio for a salesperson free mattress store–Hassleless Mattress. There are no salespeople; the doors open and close automatically everyday and you can try mattresses to your heart’s content. This was a new shopping experience for me and it had me thinking; is this what the future will hold? Business owners will have reduced labor costs, which will help their bottom line, in theory. But will the human interaction that is still prevalent in most retail outlets today be adequately replaced with developing technologies? I’ll be keeping my eye out on the 7-Elevens and Circle Ks of the world to see how this paradigm shift in certain retail destinations might bleed into the practice of convenience store staffing.

How do you see new technologies affecting your convenience stores and your own shopping experiences? Could you envision a time when convenience stores will be salesperson free? It will be interesting to see what the future has in store for us.

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