Last year I wrote a blog post covering the deployment of digital storefronts, highlighting the challenges that these deployments have in driving customer engagement and commerce. In fact, my observations during the holiday season of 2013 led me to the insight that digital storefronts do not add a tremendous amount of value to shoppers.

Fast forward to early 2015 and a new evolution of digital store technology has emerged from eBay Enterprise. This new deployment feels less like a digital storefront and more like a well-integrated set of technologies that helps both customers and associates. Within the Rebecca Minkoff store in Soho where this technology is deployed, eBay Enterprise modified its digital storefront solution by:

  • Moving the technology inside the store. The eBay Enterprise giant 'connected wall' is deployed near the entrance of Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store, poised to engage customers with interactive product imagery and information while they shop. The key here is that the 2015 technology serves to augment the store experience by adding value within the context of the customer’s shopping journey, while its 2013 cousin attempted to overhaul the store experience entirely. It’s worth noting that the display is visible from outside the store as well, moonlighting as a marketing tool to draw in curious passersby.
  • Integrating the technology into the dressing room. By digitizing Rebecca Minkoff fitting rooms, eBay Enterprise solves a key customer pain point. Shoppers in need of a different size or color of an item can simply tap the connected mirror to send their request to an associate, allowing them to spend more time trying on the product instead of fumbling for it on the showroom floor. The fitting rooms are also equipped with 'wear-it-with' capabilities, providing targeted outfit recommendations based on an RFID scan of the fitting room’s contents. (Hi-res product images are displayed to customers via the connected mirror, with the option to request the recommended garments for try-on.) Both features add measurable customer value: 30% of Rebecca Minkoff shoppers digitally request items from associates and 75% engage with the wear-it-with feature.
  • Including the associate in the experience. As we’ve noted time and time again in our research, associate engagement is absolutely critical to a successful digital store implementation. Customers using the Rebecca Minkoff app have the option to attach a record of their fitting room session to their Minkoff loyalty account, which associates manned with eBay Enterprise Retail Associate Platform devices can access—along with the customer’s past purchase history—in order to provide more personalized assistance. The store technology serves to empower associates and complement their existing selling skills and product knowledge, instead of trying to remove the human element from the equation all together.

By integrating the technology into the store shopping experience rather than simply putting a digital display on the outside of a storefront, eBay Enterprise has successfully enriched the in-store experience for customers and associates. At the same time, the company has built a platform that can capture new types of analytics and be able to use these analytics to improve the customer experience—and drive sales—long after the customer has gone home. However, implementing a 'digital store' is not as easy as rolling out the aforementioned technology. eBusiness professionals must work with colleagues in store operations to carefully map out their customer’s journey, ensuring that each digital tool adds real value at a specific point in the shopping experience. The solution must be easy and worthwhile for associates to use, and associates must be trained not only in how to use the physical technology but also in how and when to engage customers. In order to maximize impact, the technology must be integrated with store systems and CRM.

Like it or not, physical stores are here to stay. (Naysayers are invited to check out our recent eCommerce forecast; over 90% of US retail sales still occur in-store.) Retailers should take a lesson from the 2013 digital storefront missteps and avoid using technology to replace the role of the store and/or the associate. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, consider building roadways that will help it operate more effectively.