Brick-and-mortar stores need technology-service balance to compete with ecommerce

Some nervous retailers have worried that competition from ecommerce could push them off the high street, but a recent survey shows that may not be the case.

Some nervous retailers have worried that competition from ecommerce could push them off the high street, but a recent survey shows that may not be the case. Six out of 10 customers said they still prefer personalized service from a cashier at the checkout to self-service kiosks.

"The 'death of the high street' is quite clearly not a reality. Bricks and mortar will always be vital. The key is to make such technology advances simply part of the shopping experience - and part of the retail boom coming in 2012," said Ed Brindley, the director of marketing at Wincor Nixdorf

Brindley presses the need for retailers to develop a balance between providing hands-on customer service and using emerging retail technology to make transactions more efficient. The study also found more than half of customers were willing to abandon items they intended to buy if they were forced to wait for more than eight minutes in a line at the checkout. One-third said they would leave merchandise behind if there was a wait at all.

"Consumers want that personal service ... But similarly, they want to know that if there is a long queue, there will be options to speed up their experience," Brindley added, suggesting businesses adopt new mobile point-of-sale devices to supplement current stationary terminals.

With mobile devices, store employees can interact with customers on the sales floor and streamline the checkout processing. Home Depot recently introduced a series of point-of-sale updates, including terminals that can accept mobile payments and smartphone devices that can ring in sales to reduce the amount of time shoppers have to wait before making their purchases.

If businesses fail to embrace new service strategies, they could end up sacrificing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Two-thirds of the surveyed consumers said they would go online to do their shopping if they experienced disappointing service in stores.

To keep customers from leaving empty handed or turning to ecommerce sites, businesses can use secret shoppers to track the average wait time in checkout lines and ensure they are hitting the service mark goals.