Each Christmas, retailers unintentionally pit shoppers against each other in a grueling competition. How quickly can we shop and exit before becoming overwhelmed by the sickly slivers of mall Christmas music tuned just one octave too high and played one beat too fast? That is assuming we can find what we’re looking for without help – holiday staffing is frequently insufficient and under-trained.

These types of experiences are so horrible that they destroy the relationships that brands spend so much time cultivating. And today’s modern retail powerhouses are not about to let that happen. In fact, this a monumental time of opportunity and change for customer service in brick-and-mortar retail; we are about to see the wide scale deployment of mobile devices like iPads, empowered with enterprise apps, all to benefit the customer experience.

MOBILE – A TOOL NOT A TREND

Much has been written about the proliferation of mobile devices as a research and purchasing tool for customers. Consultants, who just love to bet on technological trends, are frothing at the mouth to get mobile devices into the hands of sales staff. Their logic? Mobile tech in customers’ hands has vastly increase sales, so mobile for sales associates should do the same. More technology in store will magically mean more sales.

In reality though, there is no magic. Technology won’t change the role of the sales associate; it will make them astonishingly better at the tasks they had all along: providing the customer with convenience, personalization, customization, and efficiency. Only hand-held mobile devices can deliver this depth of experience with available technology.

Retailers are now delivering in-store convenience, personalization, customization, and efficiency through clienteling systems. Clienteling systems provide sales associates with a customer’s profile on a mobile device, such as an iPad, in real time, allowing them to qualify each customer despite possibly never having served that customer before.

Salesforce developers are pioneering clienteling solutions that can be delivered as either Salesforce1 customizations or through bespoke native clienteling enterprise apps. Retailers such as Burberry, Stuart Weitzman, Designs Within Reach, and LL Bean are implementing strategies now. Some of the features at the edge of development are listed below:

Product Recommendation Engines: This tool estimates a customer’s preference for different items in the current season, and guides sales associate recommendations by analyzing a customer’s on-line sales history, in-store sales history, browsing habits, and wish lists,

Product Catalog Real-time Inventory: This functionality allows associates to help client review products not in store or sold out, and see real-time availability information, meaning retailers can insure they never lose a sale even if the product is out of stock.

Black Book Replacement: Key customer profiles are stored as part of the integrated CRM database, replacing the little black book or a disjointed back office CRM.

Private Personal Shopper: Hyper-personal one-on-one communication between clients and associates both in and outside of store furthers the VIP shopping feel.

Appointment Scheduling: Much like Apple’s Genius Bar appointment, retail clients can book their preferred sales staff, and associates are alerted when clients arrive for a pre-booked consultation.</ol>

Look Builder: Enabling clients to build looks by combining previously purchased merchandise with in-store items reinforces brand loyalty and can reduce returns.
New clienteling technology means that identifying the customer will become less cumbersome. Rather than waiting until checkout to learn a client’s name and account details, sales associates – through proximity awareness technology such as iBeacon – will know exactly who is in the store and in their vicinity. The second I walk in the door someone will fetch my pearl stud earrings. They will know where I am inside the store. I will no longer have to fight to get what I want.

PRIVACY  & CREEPINESS – WHY WOULD I WANT TO BE TRACKED

The downside is that the roll out of this technology will take time. Customers, staff, and legislators are weary.

Retailers already track our data, but we are not used to them using that data in real time. How do retailers reassure customers that this won’t be harmful and why would I want to opt in?

The answer is by offering enormous efficiencies and value to our experience in exchange for that data. And industry standards will give customers confidence, which is why the industry codes and guidance currently emerging on use of locational data, IoT, and cloud are garnering such attention. Participants are closely watching legal cases in the US and UK for guidance but the landscape is quite treacherous still.

A great illustration of the difficult path companies must tread on the new frontier encompassing data-privacy laws is that of start-up Movvo. Movvo uses cell-phone signals to provide foot traffic analysis in malls in Europe. It is technically impossible to link cell phone signals back to individuals (part of Apple’s iOS 8 update was randomizing the unique MAC addresses of its iPhones to prevent personal tracking using technologies such as Movvo’s), so in essence what Movvo has developed is a much better version of the common door counter used in malls today – no new intrusions into privacy – no chance that customers will be affected. Nonetheless, strict data-protection regulations in Movvo’s European markets meant they needed to seek independent certification to operate.

So even though there is no risk of privacy violations, Movvo has had to spend two years obtaining a license to demonstrate they were using personal data in accordance with European data-protection laws. In addition to a being subjected to an enormous ongoing audit process, Movvo had to create an algorithm that scrambled the customer data so people could not be personally tracked by comparing phone data with closed-circuit video. And finally Movvo had to hand out fliers to shoppers telling them that they are being monitored.

Movvo huge undertaking marks just baby step towards the future in terms of some of the advancements I am discussing. Peter Thiel, founder PayPal, and Palantir, and leading hand in investing in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yelp, has repeatedly gone on the record to cite that bureaucratic legislation is stifling innovation. When you look at Movvo as a test case for the industry, nothing could be more true.

The smart brands are putting an emphasis on “privacy by design” in their products and how they interact with their customers. Regulatory and adoption issues will be overcome in time. Brands that tread cautiously and use their client’s data to improve their experiences first and foremost will be richly rewarded.

I dream of a day when holiday shopping is one most relaxing times of the year. Until then, see you at the mall!