Lowe’s, Poshmark are improving customer experience via digital innovation

No matter what the product, customers crave personalization. Retailers engaging customers through today’s highly sophisticated digital and mobile tools are finding that, if executed properly, these initiatives deliver greater customer satisfaction, loyalty and sales.

Panera Bread, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and Poshmark, a social marketplace for fashion, focus on vastly different products, but have a lot in common when it comes to improving the customer experience using digital media.

This much was evident during a session on engaging mobile experiences in the customer journey at the ShopTalk conference at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas.

Jeff Richards, managing partner at GGV capital, served as moderator.

Panera continues to improve

Panera Bread, recognized as a technology pioneer in the foodservice industry, continues to score high marks with customers through its self-order kiosks and mobile order app, said Mark Berinato, vice president of digital experience.

But while technology has made a major impact on the company’s ability to win loyal customers, Panera defines itself as a food company first and foremost, according to Berinato.

“You love it because of the food,” he said.

Mark Berinato, right, tells Jeff Richards that Panera Bread considers itself a food company first and foremost, and that technology is an enabler.

While technology is an enabler – Berinato noted that 30 percent of the sales are now from digital and online orders – the underlying factor, in addition to food quality, is the company’s success in creating a welcoming environment.

Panera Bread began its technology focused customer engagement journey several years ago when it realized that customers wanted to know more about the food they were being served. Technology was simply a tool to provide more information to customers.

But as it began asking customers for information about themselves, the company realized it could use the data to make their visits more rewarding.

“[Customers] expect that what you know about them is played back,” Berinato said.

The self order kiosk allows customers to quickly reorder food they previously ordered. This has led to more frequent visits. The kiosks, like the mobile app, provide ingredient information.

Panera Bread launched its home delivery service to let customers experience its food in their homes. Unlike many other restaurants, the company employs its own delivery drivers.

“We made the choice to own the channel,” Berinato said.The company also uses technology to improve back of the house functions, he said. This is important, because when the number of orders grows, the operation must be able to deliver them quickly to ensure a positive customer experience.

Lowe’s keeps innovating

Lowe’s, too, has found that technology is not only about supporting products and services, but also about delivering a cohesive customer experience, according to Gihad Jawhar, vice president of digital development at the home improvement chain.

The company recently introduced an app called “Measured By Lowe’s” that enables customers to take, save and send measurements for home repair work.

Gihad Jawar, right, explains the new Lowe’s
Home Improvement measurement app.

The app turns an augmented reality-enabled iPhone or iPad into a digital tape measure that can calculate, align, layer and filter measurements – and even share them on social media.

Lowe’s employees use several apps to help with customer needs, including locating products in the massive stores. Employees can also take credit card payments using an app.

Over 60 percent of the in-store sales are influenced by digital in some way, Jawhar said.

The technology ultimately has to support the personal experience. Jawhar said that finding a plumbing expert in the store to address a specific plumbing problem would be an ultimate “personalization” experience for a Lowe’s shopper.

Social fashion marketplace finds success

Customer engagement via mobile social app is the very foundation of Poshmark, a social marketplace for fashion where anyone can buy and sell – or share their personal style. Manish Chandra, founder and CEO, believes that mobile social media has changed the way people shop.

People expect to see something different every time they go on social media, said Chandra. He goes as far as to say that mobile and social media are made for each other; customers share experiences with one another, which fosters sales. Sellers of products, meanwhile, spend half of their time promoting other sellers.

Manish Chandra, right, says retailing is becoming
personal again thanks to technology.

The social aspect is key to the company’s success – 80 percent of sales are from repeat buyers and Poshmark users curate more than 10 million items per day, Chandra said.

One of the hardest parts about creating a social marketplace is sitting back and letting it happen, he said.

Chandra observed that today’s digital technology is making retailing personal again.

Fifty years ago, customers networked with one another about their needs.

“You could get fashion advice in the store,” he said.


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