Jan 14 2020

NRF 2020: Retailers Must Know Customers to Build Great Shopping Experiences

Whatever the product, customer understanding can drive sales.

Smart retailers place the customer experience at the center of everything they do. But when the product being sold is something as straightforward as house paint, redefining the customer experience is no small feat.

Yet that’s the task that Rich Stefani, CIO and group vice president of technology at Dunn-Edwards Paints, and his colleagues have taken on in recent years. Speaking at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show in New York about reshaping the retail store experience, Stefani argued that understanding the customer’s perspective is the key to building an outstanding buying experience, whatever the product line.

Based in Vernon, Calif., Dunn-Edwards is a nearly 100-year-old paint manufacturer with 140 stores in the Southwest and tens of thousands of paint colors to choose from. The selling process has changed over the past 20 years, Stefani said, because modern consumers are armed with a lot more information than previous generations, so it’s key to understand how much interaction they want from staff.

“The customer knows some things, the store knows some things, and customers are expecting the store to fill the gaps in the customer’s knowledge,” he said.

MORE FROM NRF: Watch how GNC brought its products to customers anywhere, anytime.

How to Create Experiences For Diverse Customers

About 90 percent of Dunn-Edwards customers are contractors, and 10 percent are households. That presents a different kind of challenge, Stefani said: “We have to capture sales from both groups, but it’s a different experience for each group.”

For the contractors, speed is key. They want to get in the store, fulfill the order and get out. But many homeowners embarking on a DIY painting project don’t quite know what they need. Dunn-Edwards staffers need to find out what the customer wants to do so they can suggest options for sheen, color and other variables, and guide the customer through all the different types of paint they can buy.

But neither type of customer wants to wait needlessly to purchase their product once they’ve selected it, Stefani said. “We put in Toshiba point-of-sale devices in every store because of speed. We needed to make sure the process was as quick as possible with the solid-state drives to limit the customer’s time.”

Also, because customers would be waiting at the checkout line for a bit, Dunn-Edwards wanted to take advantage of that time. They used the point-of-sale devices to display marketing information to engage with the customer and offer them the option to sign up for a credit program while they waited, Stefani said. “We leverage technology to make it efficient, fast, get the customers in there and out, and reduce the lines that makes it so frustrating to them.”

Stefani noted that in 2015, Dunn-Edwards started using Apple iPad devices as payment, systems in addition to cash registers, as a way to help customers who ordered ahead of time to get in and out quickly. “If I’m a store manager and I see a long line, and a regular just wants to pick something up or a will-call customer walks in, I can service that customer right away, quickly,” he said. “It’s all about simplifying the customer experience, even in an industry like paint.”

MORE FROM NRF: Read how AI is revolutionizing retail.

5G, AI and Advanced Video on the Horizon

When it comes to emerging technology to help with the customer experience, Stefani said he’s excited about 5G, which can bring redundancy to store networks that will come in handy during California’s frequent power outages.

He also sees artificial intelligence and advanced security cameras as promising tech, but warned that anyone looking to implement new technology must “make sure you have your infrastructure in place first, then focus on the software. If you try to jump this step, you will hit massive walls.”

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