As consumers, we’ve all experienced the opposite of a frictionless shopping experience:  Long lines at checkout. Customer service representatives who are nowhere to be found. Frustration at not finding what we’re looking for.

But what is a frictionless experience, and how can retailers provide it?

The definitions and possibilities are many, but essentially, frictionless shopping is a seamless, customer-centric experience typically spanning both online and in-store browsing and buying. It starts by understanding individual consumers’ needs, expectations and preferences and then applies that knowledge to every interaction. And it removes anything that does not contribute to a positive experience.  Behind the scenes, technology – especially real-time analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) – drives the experience.

L’Oréal, for instance, has developed sophisticated and integrated omnichannel programs to entice and maintain customer relationships by tracking purchases and web surfing history. The analyzed data then helps the French cosmetics giant personalize campaigns to foster individual customer relationships — and expand wallet share and loyalty.

Bell and Howell introduced PackRobot by Cleveron, an innovative smart locker technology where customers order products online, are notified automatically when the shipment is ready, and can pick it up at their convenience from a self-service pickup tower in the store or parking lot in as few as 10 seconds.

These examples blur the lines between online and brick-and-mortar experiences to offer a frictionless experience, and illustrate what authors of an article by McKinsey & Company, “The future of retail: How to make your bricks click” recommend:

The retailers who thrive in the next decade will be those that reimagine and redefine their stores for the digital age. Tomorrow’s winners will be those who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in a manner that delights customers, builds loyalty and generates brand value.

Here are six ways digital technology can help retailers begin to deliver frictionless shopping and delight their customers:

  1. Leverage real-time analytics and evolving machine learning (ML) and AI to continually analyze customer data and behavior patterns and generate context-sensitive, actionable insights and enrich the end-to-end customer experience — from sales and marketing through customer service and support.
  2. Use technologies based on computer vision, sensors and deep learning (DL) to replenish stock on time and minimize or eliminate wait times at checkout counters.
  3. Implement ML-based recommendation systems to help customers make a decision while researching a product online, at what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
  4. Tap into evolving immersive technology to help customers try products online before buying.
  5. Make conversational AI part of the equation to help serve customers through omnipresent chatbots and self-service voice-based assistants.
  6. Implement beacon technology as a nonintrusive mechanism to deliver value through personalization and context-based service — for instance, through personalized coupons.

Retailers that take steps now toward the frictionless experience can expect the most success – and the happiest and most loyal customers — in the near and long term.

Learn how Tops Markets improved customer experience and built customer loyalty by ramping up its digital offerings.