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A Facebook friend of mine recently published a retail-related rant about the poor service she received while shopping for shoes at a major department store (that will remain nameless):

“I told the guy which ones I wanted and waited 10 minutes while he looked and came back to tell me they had neither the size nor color I wanted. Shouldn’t he/she be able to scan the code and discover that without ever going to the stock room and climbing on a ladder? Or shouldn’t I as the customer be able to scan it and find out the same thing and then order the shoes from a warehouse to be delivered?”

She finished up with most damning sentence I can imagine:

“When you shop retail you can’t help but compare it to the Internet experience.”

Don’t worry, this article is not another “Why is brick-and-mortar retail dying?” think piece. It’s about the interplay of human beings and technology in a service-oriented industry. Not to be all crunchy-Granola about it, but they are the yin and yang of good service. As my friend’s rant indicated, human beings without technology are severely limited. But technology without human beings is worse than limited: it’s almost useless.

Technology For Humans, Not In Place Of Humans

I was reminded of the importance of the human-technology connection, ironically, at a user conference hosted by one of the world’s largest technology companies: Salesforce Xchange. Among the many presentations by Salesforce execs and retailers, there was a refreshing emphasis on how various technologies would be used by real-world store associates to enhance the experience of real-world shoppers.

Vineyard Vines, for example, has deployed a mobile-first point-of-sale system (mPOS) that provides associates with the ability to see current inventory in their store as well as other stores and online. Associates can view the same product mix that customers see online, with a single view of customer, product, prices and promotions.

“The immediate value was the ease of use,” said Karen Beebe, VP of Technology at Vineyard Vines. She described a pop-up store that the retailer had set up at Dreamforce, the enormous Salesforce…