The deployment of digital systems in-store is a key link in the chain between the online and offline relationship with customers, but it cannot be done successfully without taking full account of the human factor.

“You have to train the sales teams to overcome customers’ reluctance to use a tablet.”

Interview with Julien Leblanc, head of e-commerce at shoe company Chausport, on the sidelines of the Connected Store Symposium event organised by ‘Phygital (physical-digital) Commerce’ experts Improveeze and held in the Microsoft Conference Centre just outside Paris on 24 October.

L’Atelier: What prompted you to take the leap and offer your customers a ‘connected’ store?

Julien Leblanc: We have 75 stores. After we developed our e-commerce site in 2012, we then focused our efforts on deploying in-store systems to manage stock-outages. The fact is that our stores are only between 50 and 130 square metres in area so they’re too small to carry our entire range both in terms of breadth and depth. And if a customer is unable to find his/her chosen model of shoe, size or favourite colour right there in the store, s/he may well just give up and go elsewhere.

So what sort of systems have you installed in your shops to ‘connect’ them?

We’ve installed terminal points with iPads. We needed to have very slender terminals because our shops are short on space. Customers can use the terminal to look through our entire range and check the in-store availability of each item. They can also pay there with a bank card if they wish, so they don’t have to go over to the checkout. We also offer free home delivery and this will also soon be available at pickup points at intermediaries or in-store. Five pilot stores have been equipped with a terminal and have been trialling the system since May. We’re aiming to it out in around sixty stores by January.

Have you had any problems?

We’ve had a range of problems. First of all there were technical issues. This was the first time I personally had worked in an iOS environment, and my learning curve was a fairly painful process. Our second concern was both the design and the physical positioning of the terminals at the stores. Before finally deciding on the right design and the right colour, we had to experiment. The terminals we have now in place are very slender in shape, displaying the various options for ordering items, paying by bank card and arranging free delivery. Of course design is one thing, but if the terminal is relegated to the very back of the store, it will be no use at all. So we had to work with the stores to find the right place and that was no simple matter. Retail merchandising is all about profitability per square metre. Setting up the terminal and allowing the right amount of space around it for customers to circulate upset normal practice at the stores.

How was the new system received by the sales teams?

The human aspect was both the main difficulty and the main potential asset. We had to win the sales force over and make them part of the process. At first, the majority of our sales assistants were convinced that the terminals would undermine the relationship with the customer. So we had to do some training, which is not easy when you’re a small setup. The first necessity is to train salespeople in how to use the terminal. Then you have to incorporate the terminal into the sales process, and explain that sales through this channel will be included in the assistants’ bonus scheme. Finally, you have to train your staff to overcome customers’ reluctance to use a tablet. And there’s one last point. You have to ensure that each salesperson can link his/her badge to the sale coming through the terminal so that s/he has a financial stake in this new sales channel.

What else do you have to do?

We’ve observed that towards the end of the trial period, the test stores often fall back into their old ways and no longer make an effort to use the terminal. It’s therefore essential to give them a weekly report so that they are aware of the contribution to sales the terminal is making. The report must also include the reasons why a purchase was made from the terminal. Very often it’s because the store has actually run out of stock on an item. So it’s important that store managers, who usually know their own stock situation very well, also take an interest in the company’s online offering, which is much wider and provides a means of managing stock outages. By keeping up with both the in-store situation and stock availability on the e-commerce site, they should be able to manage their stock in an orderly manner. In fact we still need to do some more work in this area because stocking issues must not be allowed to become an obstacle to the spread of the ‘phygital’ approach.

Are you able to measure your return on investment from this technology?

Well, ROI is quite difficult to measure. However the investment in equipment is minimal. The largest item of the investment is the technician who comes to install the system in the store. Looking at the five test stores, those that really ran with the idea have seen a definite increase in sales, and one of them has done really brilliantly. At the end of the day, it’s people who make the connected store a success.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo