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Techified Shopping: Are Salespeople Becoming Obsolete?

by Adriana Lee | March 18, 2012March 18, 2012 10:00 am PDT

Technology has transformed so many aspects of life, including one of the most universal human activities of the modern era — shopping. Not only can we bleed our wallets dry at any hour of the day or night via app or website, but even when we do leave our couches and hit the sales floors, we’re burning through comparison-shopping tools, reading online reviews and watching how-to vids, right there in the aisles.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have noticed this, of course. But instead of lamenting about it, some of the savvier ones are adapting to our tech-driven proclivities. Also called the “self-serve” trend, the approach was embraced by many supermarkets and airlines to make check-outs and check-ins more efficient. Now it’s spreading to others — particularly businesses that cater to a hipper, techno-forward clientele. In other words, you.

Pretty soon, the dreaded “Can I help you with anything?” will become obsolete. (And not a moment too soon, either. No, I don’t need to be upsold, thank you.) It’s a no-brainer that tech retailers like Best Buy would get in on the action. Hotels, too. And they’re not the only ones. Cosmetics brand Bobbi Brown, whose make-up artists have given tutorials for years, is now using in-store touchscreen TVs. Macy’s is considering doing the same, but with tablets. Speaking of tablets, LeBron James’ Miami shoe store is equipped with 50 iPads to service customers. And at C. Wonder, customers can even touchpad-control the lighting and tunes in their dressing rooms.

Nordstrom sort of accidentally got in the game when it debuted its app. The execs thought people would use it for offsite mobile shopping, but instead, they noticed customers were firing it up right there on the sales floor. Turns out, customers preferred using the app in lieu of dealing with salespeople. Capitalizing on the trend, the retailer launched Wi-Fi across most of its chain, just so the app will work well on the premises, and it’s thinking of adding charging stations and tablets or computers for customer use.

It’s pretty exciting to see retailers “get it” and show some willingness to reinvent how they do business. (Wish other industries would get the message too. *cough* cable TV *cough*) But change like this can also carry some concerns: These days, when people have fewer opportunities to connect to other people in real life, is a self-serve shopping culture necessarily a good thing? And could this trend ultimately lead to sweeping job losses in the service and retail industries?

What do you think of tech-driven self-serve shopping? Do you prefer devices as in-store companions, actual human salespeople, or is the whole thing just pointless, thanks to e-commerce? Weigh in.

[via New York Times]


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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