In recent years, online pure-plays such as ASOS have made a great success of using insights gleaned from customer interactions to keep people coming back for more.

Multichannel retailers have quickly upped their game in this respect thanks to new in-store technologies.

For example, Co-operative Food recently announced a trial in which tablets will be installed on the trollies in its grocery stores. 

As they move through the store, customers will be presented with information through the tablet and asked questions about elements of their experience as well as wider societal issues that might inform how and what the retailer should market to them.

This approach makes sense. Retailers spend big on extracting insights from customer interactions, so why wouldn’t they take advantage of a customer’s presence in a physical store to do the same?

And, with the information harvested digitally, retailers can put it to use in close to real time. Lack of stock on a certain aisle? Refill the shelves. Confusing new layout? Prepare new signage. It is a quantum leap forward from arming your sales assistants with clipboards and pens, and is much less intrusive and therefore more likely to yield genuine responses.

But it is not sufficient merely to have the technology in place. Retailers need to ensure that their staff on the shop floor are properly equipped to interpret and act on insights. Many retailers already have staff toting tablets for inventory monitoring. This is useful, but limited. 

More valuable is the ability to make personalised recommendations based on customers’ searches and purchases, or to highlight special offers that might be of particular interest.

New ‘beacon’ technologies such as Bluetooth Smart are opening up new possibilities in this area. In March 2014 retailers in the Swan Centre in Hampshire became the first in the UK to adopt beacon technology, enabling them to send offers directly to customers’ smartphones, without using an app or web browser.

House of Fraser announced in August that it would start deploying beacons in its mannequins that can transmit information to customers app about the clothes dressing the mannequins, from images and prices to locations within the store and online purchase links.

The real benefits of these technologies, however, will only come once they are integrated in real time with CRM data in the hands of shop-floor staff.

If your shop-floor staff can see that a customer has added a product to their online basket but not completed the purchase, they might want to offer to demonstrate the product, or to encourage the customer to try it on, to rescue that abandoned basket. If you can tell that a customer is not opening your promotional emails, this might be a good opportunity to ask for feedback.

For fully integrated customer service, contact centre and online support staff also need access to CRM data and individual customer profiles.

Imagine your customer service operatives being able to respond to a complaint about the unavailability of a product by setting up an alert to notify the customer of its availability and making personalised suggestions as to possible alternative purchases. Isn’t that more likely to engender brand loyalty than a perfunctory apology?

The watchword for retailers should be simplicity. With many retailers having higher-than-average staff turnover, especially during peak periods such as the Christmas season, it is vital that hardware and software are easy to operate.

The goodwill you build up by providing customers with a personalised in-store experience will quickly evaporate if it means waiting around awkwardly while a flustered member of staff fumbles their way through the CRM system.

For all the doom and gloom that can surround the High Street, the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience is not going away any time soon.

Retailers can ill-afford to neglect the opportunity to integrate in-store insights as they look to build up the fullest possible picture of their customers. Real-time interpretation of CRM and online behavioural data, matched to in-store insights, can help retailers provide the best possible experience for their customers.