How Argos seeks to survive digital disruption

How is the retailer using tech to deliver customer service that epitomizes ease, convenience, and flexibility
2 October 2018

The retailer now enables customers to shop via smart speakers. Source: Shutterstock

Time and time again, stories describing the world of retail as a capricious landscape has filled our newsfeed, with storefronts across the UK closing their doors for the final time as a result of poor sales and the rise of fierce online competition.

This year has truly been a tragic time for retailers, with each week that passes bringing yet another story of a high street chain at risk of the retail apocalypse.

Several retailers have taken a dive this year, from Maplin and Toys R Us in March, to Poundworld in May. On top of this, many other retailers have announced large numbers of store closures as a result of plummeting sales.

But one retailer looking to stand tall despite the strong current of flailing stores is British catalog retailer Argos. To help ensure survivability in today’s rocky retail landscape, the company is placing technology and innovation at its heart.

The need for retailers to innovate

With the emergence of the internet and mobile technology, many millennial consumers are increasingly using online websites rather than physical stores to shop, largely due to convenience and choice.

To compete with digital disruptors, retailers are having to seriously consider innovating. And for Argos and many others, this means using technology to improve the customer experience in the physical store environment.

In order to provide customers with the ease and convenience that today’s customers are so hungry for, Argos have recently ventured into voice technology.

Voice-assistants have become a staple household item for many. Source: Shutterstock

This technology is rapidly becoming embedded into the everyday life of the consumer. In fact, one in ten households in the UK now has a digital home assistant according to YouGov, and Argos have reported that the sale of smart speakers have grown 90 percent year-on-year.

Using the technology, shoppers at Argos are now empowered to shop products from the catalog using the Google Assistant. With a simple “Hey Google, Ask Argos”, customers can reserve over 20,000 different products.

Argos’ Digital Director, Mark Steel explained to TechHQ:

“As take-up of voice increases, we believe that voice technology has the potential to revolutionize how we shop in the future.”

“Using voice is hands-free so it’s perfect for shoppers who are time-poor and those that need to get products quickly and easily. Voice-assisted shopping allows our customers to multi-task, letting them order items while they perform other activities, like doing the washing up or playing with their kids,” explained Steel.

According to Steel, the key to providing customer service excellence in today’s digital age is convenience and flexibility.

The modern-day customer wants to be able to shop wherever and whenever they want, at the speed of their life, and retailers need to be able to provide a flexible range of ways for customers to shop with them.

Omni-channel experience: The need for a physical store is still important

Argos has long been a pioneering retailer on the technology front. Its advanced digital capability, which includes a website and an app, supported by a nationwide store presence, has proved popular with shoppers, who benefit from its market-leading Click & Collect service and Fast Track delivery.

Customers can order in-store or online and can choose to collect their products or have them delivered in as little as four hours.

Argos pioneered Click & Collect services in 2000. Source: Shutterstock

“Having the option to visit a physical store and have face-to-face interaction with friendly people is clearly important to our customers, with 80 percent of all Argos orders being fulfilled in a store,” said Steel.

Emerging tech trends

In addition to voice technology, a key trend that is gaining a lot of traction in the retail landscape is augmented reality (AR). “The potential for retailers will only be limited by their own imagination,” explained Steel.

In the future, these technologies could enable customers to place potential purchases in their homes and browse almost infinite choices of color, material, and finish.

Source: Shutterstock

“Building baskets with AR will remove uncertainty from the purchase decision and could all be checked out in the blink of an eye,” he added.

Despite Argos being a digitally-driven business, according to Steel, it has not been a journey without challenges.

There’s no denying that today’s market is complex and it has never been tougher for retailers to compete — especially with the ongoing emergence of pure-play retailers and the growing dominance of brands like Amazon.

According to Steel, some of the things that have helped in this challenging market is having digital fully embedded into the business — not just physically but culturally too.

The retailer truly recognizes the importance of growing and nurturing their own tech talent.

Earlier this year, Argos launched a search for 150 new tech and digital specialists to join them to think big and create new experiences and functionality that their customers don’t even know they want yet.