Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of IKEA’s hallmarks as a furniture and home goods titan was their immersing customer experience. However, the traditional operating system was ready for major innovation and advancement.
Previously, customers could order items online to be picked up in-store. After completing an online purchase, they would need to set aside the time to go to one of IKEA’s notoriously labyrinthine retail stores in order to find what they needed, if there was one in their area.
On account of IKEA’s enduring presence as a brand and selling their shopping experience as a “day trip” type of experience with an on-site restaurant and children’s play area, the daunting aspects of visiting IKEA were considered a cultural touchstone. However, the pandemic only accelerated inevitable changes in consumer behavior that put the “making a day of it” experience at a disadvantage.
With the pandemic resulting in stay-at-home orders and nonessential businesses closing, it became crucial for businesses of all sizes to adapt to a predominantly eCommerce model. Even with lifting restrictions and vaccination rates rising, painting a more hopeful picture for society to safely reopen, customers have been justifiably hesitant to leave their homes for nonessential trips.
Due to this pause, IKEA decided to look to the future and use the downtime to improve their customer experience. Tech-savvy, Millennial, and Zoomer customers are short on patience and don’t want to spend several hours wandering a furniture store, especially if they must go out of their way to even get there. With dozens of similarly-priced competitors like Target, West Elm, and Amazon having simplified ordering and delivery systems online for furniture and home goods, IKEA knew it was time to adapt to this eCommerce-driven model that was coming all along, but the pandemic had now necessitated much sooner.
The Need To Streamline Operations
In the ever-changing retail landscape, streamlining operations and providing a stellar customer experience is mandatory to succeed. Streamlining retail involves fixing inefficiencies at both the physical store and eCommerce levels. Today’s customer doesn’t want to waste time browsing clunky websites. If they’re taking the time to make a trip to the store, they’re going to create wishlists, then see how the product looks in person.
They may even end up buying that same item from their wishlist if they didn’t buy it on that trip, whether due to requiring delivery or needing more time to think about the purchase. This has made customer management technology a cornerstone of improving all facets of the retail experience.
As society begins to reopen, people are discussing what they want to change in a post-COVID landscape and what they would like to keep. Ecommerce is a must, but the popularity of curbside pickup and pre-planning shopping trips has persisted. Modern customers do not want to wait in lines if they don’t have to. While this is somewhat spurred by the risk associated with COVID-19, most people simply don’t want to wait in lines when they can either get items delivered to their homes or pre-purchase items placed in their cars by associates.
The buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) model is of particular value to both customers and retailers, even as the pandemic wanes. This approach provides the customer with a convenient option and solves a problem for the retailer: getting customers into the store. While they are there, they may buy again immediately or make note of items they’d like to purchase in the future.
Any time that is reduced in the purchasing process or checkout is now integral for retailers to thrive in a post-COVID world, especially if it provides more opportunities for the same customer to make purchases in tandem.
Ombori Customer Management Systems In A Post-COVID World
IKEA turned to Ombori to devise an evolved customer management solution that was deployed across their stores in the Middle East in a matter of two and a half months. In Saudi Arabia in particular, customers are extremely tech-proficient and welcome new shopping experiences utilizing a blend of websites, social media, and mobile apps. By overhauling the main customer website, web interface for IKEA staff, store terminals, and digital signage via the Ombori Grid (operating on the Microsoft Azure IoT platform), customers can now pre-book design consultations at their convenience.
This can be done prior to their trip from their phones, the IKEA website, or mobile app, or within the store at one of the terminals. The customer then receives a text message reminder of when their appointment is coming, instead of having to wait in line for the next available consultant in the department they were browsing. On the staff management side, management can utilize the new interface to keep track of customer flows in the store, so that consultants are efficiently booked and there are enough staff members available to help customers as needed.
Remote video sessions are also available for customers who don’t want to leave their homes. As the pandemic evolves, many customers will want to keep this convenience, and IKEA’s new global migration to Microsoft Teams makes this possible. Since the customer does not need to be in the store and can make purchases from the improved website, this greatly enables more customers to be served and streamlines this entire operation.
By gaining a 360-degree view of customer wait times and points of frustration in the purchasing and checkout processes, Ombori is able to customize a customer management system for the retailer’s unique needs.
The Future Of “Smart Stores”
As technology and consumer expectations evolve, retail stores evolve in turn. While eCommerce is driving much of the changes in the retail landscape, people still need and want to go to brick-and-mortar stores. “Smart stores” are beginning to appear in some cities, with Amazon Go being a prominent example. The convenience store is devoid of staff as a mobile app is required to enter, and items are placed in the customer’s basket are totaled on the app. When the customer exits the turnstile using the app, the items that pass the turnstile are then charged to their Amazon account.
While not all smart stores are like Amazon Go in terms of a lack of human staff on the premises, similar app, and RFID technology is being deployed in addition to smarter architecture and terminals. Smart stores use technology to minimize checkout times and eliminate bottlenecks that cause long waits and other inconveniences to customers that cause them to shop elsewhere.
By allowing the customer with more options to pre-plan shopping trips, pre-pay when possible, and make use of resources like knowledge bases so that customer service employees aren’t overwhelmed, it creates a win-win smart store experience that is beneficial to both the customer and retailer alike.
Ombori Grid is a platform dedicated to improving the customer experience in retail stores and other physical environments with the power of IoT and Digital Signage. Ombori’s signature Customer Management System allows for a simplified approach in managing all types of digital elements in a store from one single web interface. Ombori offers experience optimization solutions for retail, restaurants, commercial space, airports, healthcare facilities, and municipalities.
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