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Retail store assistant combines the best of online and in-store shopping
 
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Some have this idea that if you build it, they will buy it. That's not true. You have to adapt your technology to the market.

By Nina Davis, Oct. 2007

 



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Standing in a room that looks more like a convenience store than a research lab, HP Labs’ Mohamed Dekhil waves a handheld computer across a product label. Instantly, the screen displays the item's price, the product’s features, comparisons with similar products, shopper ratings and reviews, coupons and lots more -- information that online shoppers take for granted.

“It’s like doing Google or Yahoo in the store – only better, because the experience is more personalized,” says Dekhil.

  Retail store assistant

This scenario is one possible application of a concept Dekhil and team call the Retail Store Assistant. The integrated system of in-store kiosks, mobile devices, customized print-outs and at-home computer access is aimed at helping shoppers overcome the frustrations of in-store buying while retaining the immediacy of shopping in the store.

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Focus on helping customers

Retailers are always looking for ways to boost sales, but Dekhil’s team approached the problem by turning that idea upside down.

“Our primary focus isn't helping retailers sell more of the products they want to sell,” he explains. “Instead, we’re helping their customers find and buy what they want more easily.”

The Retail Store Assistant concept eliminates common frustrations faced by shoppers – difficulty finding a product, uninformed salespeople, forgetting shopping-list items ­– while retaining the immediacy of in-store shopping while introducing the most attractive features of online shopping, such as quick price comparisons, personalized recommendations, and instant access to product information and reviews.

 

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Using the technology

With Retail Store Assistant, shoppers could create a shopping list on the store’s Web site using any computer, update it with a voice message from their mobile phone and swipe a loyalty card at an in-store kiosk to get a printout of that shopping list.

That printout might include personalized offers for products on the list or related products, suggestions for using them – such as recipes or do-it-yourself advice – and a map that shows exactly where in the store to find the items.

  Retail store assistant printout

Shoppers could also use the kiosks to browse product ideas or scan bar codes to get product specifications, pricing, special offers and third-party reviews.

For those who prefer the human touch, sales people become instant product experts, simply by carrying a handheld computer.

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Benefits to retailers

Besides offering a better in-store experience to customers, the system can help provide visibility into customer behavior. Every time a customer clicks on a link or product at the kiosk, retailers can use the information to create a personalized sales campaign, perhaps by offering a preferred customer coupon or flagging a rebate. Participating manufacturers might also use customer-buying patterns to make direct, on-the-spot offers.

“Paper coupons that come in newspapers can take up to six weeks to plan, and by the time the consumer gets it and can act on it, the product is usually sold out or the special ends,” Dekhil says. “With the instant capabilities allowed by the retail-assistant program, we’re making that six-week planning period possible in six seconds.”

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HP retail products

Because it is research, there's no guarantee that Retail Store Assistant will become a product. In the meantime, HP offers several in-store solutions for retailers, including:

" HP Associate Mobility - lets sales associates provide customers with timely product information right on the retail floor via a wireless network.

" HP Point-of-Sale - offers automated reporting and tracking capabilities so managers can see which products are selling and when.

" HP Retail Marketing Automation - integrates marketing communications processes into a single system, so creating customized promotions and collaborating with key vendors is easy and efficient.


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