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Automating the retail customer journey through technology

Jennifer Marchand
17 Jan 2023

If you put a pot of water on the stove, it doesn’t heat up instantly. It simmers slowly at first, eventually picking up steam to reach a rolling boil.

The retail landscape is not so different. Capgemini’s research shows the sector has evolved over four generations, from the early days of fragmented outlets to omnichannel and customer-centric focuses, with a fifth generation on the horizon that promises to be centered on consumption.

  • Generation 1: Fragmented outlets
  • Generation 2: Chain concentration
  • Generation 3: Omnichannel
  • Generation 4: Consumer-centric
  • Generation 5: Consumption-centric

Although incremental change allows companies to experiment and iterate during their digital journeys, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the evolution of online and contactless shopping. Evolution became a revolution, with most Consumer Product and Retail (CPR) companies still mastering the omnichannel generation of their digital transformation to create a seamless shopping experience. Companies that are more digitally mature are already aspiring to the consumer-centric phase, embracing opportunities made possible by technology such as personalization and automation. 

What consumers want

Customers have more choices in how they shop and engage with brands. This has made it harder for brands to predict and anticipate needs across customer journeys. And that’s convincing some companies to innovate more quickly as consumer demand drives the need for speed and scale.

Think about your own online behavior. Say you’re shopping for an item and searching online for the closest store in your neighborhood. Google is likely your go-to for finding that information. Looking to troubleshoot an issue with a product or seek out a service? Again, you’ll likely hit up Google first, not even considering going directly to a brand’s website for answers.

Both scenarios point to a disconnect between virtual and physical worlds, a gap technology can bridge in numerous ways such as breaking down silos and integrating fragmented media channels. Interestingly, though, not everything will be centered online all the time. In our recent study on consumer behavior, The great consumer reset, Capgemini discovered 57 percent of shoppers plan to return to brick-and-mortar stores post-pandemic, which is basically unchanged from the 59 percent who often interacted with physical stores before.

But business as usual? Not even close. Consumers have come to expect a frictionless shopping experience (buy online, pick up in store) or an immersive one (products displayed online using augmented reality), and are not content to return to in-store lineups, empty shelves, or a one-size-fits-all approach. Moreover, customers want personalized interactions while ensuring their data and privacy are protected.

So the role of the store is changing. In fact, many online-only brands are opening brick-and-mortar establishments to drive customer experience. In our research on “smart stores,” we found the majority of consumers (66 percent) believe automation can improve their shopping experience by solving the challenges they face at retail stores.

From personalization to serendipity

Retailers must recognize that they have to win consumer trust and confidence. Many consumers believe retailers’ use of tech is focused on reducing costs rather than easing friction. And they’re right. That same Capgemini research found that only one-third (35 percent) of retailers consider “solving customer pain points” as the most important criteria when deciding which automation use cases to implement.

“Retailers are largely in the early stages of adopting automation, and that’s an opportunity to rethink how they’re using technology, not just to smooth out friction and engender consumer trust but to build unexpected consumer benefits,” says Neerav Vyas, Head of Customer First, Co-Chief Innovation Officer, Insights & Data, North America, Capgemini. “We’re trying to move towards this idea of delivering serendipitous experiences to bridge the physical and digital divide.”

The focus is not solely on shoppers seeking out a specific product. “When consumers are in an exploratory mood, retailers can recommend products and services customers didn’t even know they wanted,” says Vyas. For example, business teams that use personalization platforms as part of an integrated media strategy can optimize algorithms against outcomes such as improving conversion and driving engagement. 

Vyas says the elevated experience from “personalization to serendipity” fosters trust in the ability of recommendation architectures to persuade and influence consumers’ choices in beneficial ways. A case in point: our research found that half (52 percent) of spending by millennials goes towards experience-related purchases. As always, the key is to meet consumers where they are. Even better, according to Vyas, is to anticipate and understand when signals like customer intent are changing.

How to create value throughout the customer journey

One solution companies can implement right now is an integrated media spend platform that incorporates reporting, planning, and strategy across the entire customer journey. This offers value throughout the customer journey by using technology to reduce friction along the way. Think of it as starting with the customer looking for a product (search and discovery), moving on to the purchase (omnichannel basket, “shoppable” screens) and pick up/delivery (QR code scan in store), and through to post-purchase engagement with the retailer (Google Contact Center AI).

Such a holistic approach also accelerates data acquisition, integration, and reporting using advanced analytics to break down silos and emphasize the importance of privacy and first-party data. This in turn guides end-to-end interventions across customer journeys that enable optimized media spend, empowers businesses to analyze their spend distribution, fine-tunes owned and paid tactics with agencies, and promotes stewardship to support audit efficacy.

A culture of experimentation

With this data-driven focus, CPRs can create a 360-degree perspective of the customer. That intelligence can be used to enhance and humanize automated shopping experiences by putting the customer in control, whether online, in store, or across company brands. Moreover, by using Google Cloud’s emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), we help companies accelerate value across the spectrum, from supply-chain optimization and customer innovation to consumer experience.

Building a culture of experimentation is a team effort. “It’s not ever just one person who had a big idea. It’s all incremental steps,” says Jennifer Marchand, Google Cloud COE Leader, Capgemini. “Finding the right use case and timing is everything.” Take Google Glass Enterprise, she continues. For greater consumer experience, it can enable in-store associates to better serve with hands-free checkout, customer personalization and recommendations, and special offers. At the same time, Computer Vision and Smart Shelves can help prioritize tasks for employees, notifying them of low stock or a spill in the store.

Marchand points out that companies and consumers alike might not be ready to fully adopt some technology like facial recognition, but since almost everyone has a smartphone these days, they can benefit from automation with ease. “What’s interesting,” she adds, “is the way Google thinks about these types of problems, solving them for the long term.”

The store of tomorrow

Imagine a truly frictionless shopping experience, where state-of-the-art computer vision and AI identifies the products you pick up, put back, and keep, allowing you to head home, completely bypassing the checkout, with a 99 percent accuracy rate and receipts sent directly to your mobile app. That utopian experience is already taking shape at CornerShop, Capgemini’s live experimental store in London, UK.

Jamie MacLoud, Transformation & Strategy Consultant at frog, part of Capgemini, describes the retail space, which runs on Google Cloud, as the store of tomorrow, and not the distant future. It’s an experiential space where retailers and brands can explore, develop, and test technological shopping innovations in real-time. The outcome is a clearer understanding of how digital innovation can enable new ways to progress the customer experience, improve in-store operations, and help consumers to rediscover the joy of in-person retail through new ways to shop and engage with brands. 

“We build, test, and learn about store concepts of tomorrow that we believe could be implemented into actual stores in the next one to two years. Getting these experiences in front of real customers in the CornerShop allows us to generate tangible learnings that we can share with our clients and use to shape future store strategy”  says MacLeod. CornerShop was opened to the public in two eight-week stints, which allowed real-time testing to see what technologies resonated with customers, which brands can adapt and scale. Frictionless checkout, not surprisingly, was a big win for customers, but the technology underpinning the “virtual try-on” of clothing was deemed more suitable for the store of the future.  

So, unlike an innovation lab, CornerShop lets companies experiment risk free, speeding up the process from hypothesis to full-scale implementation. It’s also another step toward solving the challenges customers face, while delivering those serendipitous experiences that build brand loyalty and longevity.

Learn more about how Capgemini is partnering with Google Cloud to help retailers create next-generation shopping experiences today.

This article was originally published on Google Cloud’s website on January 11, 2023


Jennifer Marchand

Enterprise Architect Director and GCP CoE Leader, Capgemini/Americas
Jennifer leads the Google Cloud COE for Capgemini Americas, with a focus on solutions and investments for the CPRS, TMT, and MALS MUs, and supporting pre-sales across all MUs. She has been with Capgemini for 18 years focusing on cloud transformation since 2015. She works closely with accounts to bring solutions to our clients around GenAI, AI/ML on VertexAI and Cortex, Data Estate Modernization on Big Query, SAP on Google Cloud, Application Modernization & Edge, and Call Center Transformation and Conversational AI. She leverages the broader Capgemini ecosystem across AIE, Invent, ER&D, I&D, C&CA, and CIS to shape cloud and transformation programs focusing on business outcomes.

Neerav Vyas

Global Head of Customer First, Insights & Data, North America
Neerav is an outstanding leader, helping organizations accelerate innovation, drive growth, and facilitate large-scale transformation. He is a two-time winner of the Ogilvy Award for Research in Advertising and an AIconics 2019 and 2020 finalist for Innovation in Artificial Intelligence for Sales and Marketing.

Jamie MacLeod

Transformation & Strategy Consultant at frog – Part of Capgemini Invent
Jamie is part of the Customer Strategy and Transformation team in frog UK, he is responsible for strategic planning and operations in Capgemini’s live retail space of tomorrow, The Cornershop.