As we head into the holiday season, many merchants resort to value-based tactics to attract customers. They extend their hours, discount prices and promote special offers.

These approaches may gain merchants a short-term gain in additional sales, but the true secret to increased sales and greater customer loyalty is in enhanced customer experience. Customers seek the high touch experience they once received from working with a shop owner or sales representative that knew them well. The difference today is that customers expect technology to be the conduit for this level of support and interaction.

Several companies have embraced this trend by developing technologies that bring customers closer to the experience they crave while shopping.

Enhancing the In-Store Experience

Rebecca Minkoff has taken the personalized shopping experience to new heights with the introduction of a smart dressing room with technology powered by eBay. The mirror in the dressing room is a touch screen. Once a shopper enters, the mirror reacts to radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags attached to individual items to make recommendations of other items that will match or complement what the shopper has selected.

The mirror takes the customer experience one step further by allowing shoppers to ask for a different color or size and it even lets the shopper adjust the lighting in the dressing room to see the items in different light. This is an example of building technology into a common experience to make it extraordinary.

Applying Big Data to Big Purchases

Technology can be used to improve all types of shopping experiences, even shopping for big-ticket items. SmartFurniture.com has developed a prescriptive personalization platform that makes it easier to shop for furniture.

Their platform, called "FurnitureGenius," focuses on the data it has available for each customer and uses algorithms that are focused on finding products that provide the best solution for that customer. By applying human intuition provided by product experts, FurnitureGenius ranks products and makes associations between them and customer characteristics.

For example, a customer that looks for lumbar support in a task chair usually has lower back pain. Customers with lower back pain typically need more firm upholstered products with higher seat levels. Knowledge gained from the customer for this one product is used to provide smarter recommendations across all potential products.

When I asked SmartFurniture.com's CEO, T.J. Gentle, why they would invest in this level of technology, he told me that their "rationale is simple: create an easy to use system that helps shoppers solve problems. If they do it right, when it comes time to buy another item, shoppers will remember and will come back to shop at SmartFurniture.com again."

Improving the Online Experience

Text messaging remains one of the most successful and least used avenues for building a connection with your customers. In the Chat pioneered a platform that allows merchants, large and small, to take advantage of this underutilized channel. Customers can text a request for information to a merchant--for example to find out if they have a product in stock before venturing out to the store.

The advantage to the customer is the ability to maximize their time. They are not on hold with a store waiting for a response and they know which location to travel to for a particular item. An added bonus is that the correspondence is private when conducted across text over an inquiry posted to social media--especially important when trying to keep that important gift a secret.

The advantage to the merchant is that they can manage text messages from multiple customers at one time compared to dealing with phone calls, where an agent can only talk to one customer at a time. The information gathered during the text session can be saved and easily connected to existing merchant systems for tracking and communicating with the customer later.

While much of the focus for implementing technology is to learn more about your customers, consider instead how you and your company can use technology to improve the overall customer experience.

Published on: Nov 25, 2014