Product customization and in-store visualization

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Some multichannel merchants say customers really need to touch or try on certain products before purchasing, and those experiences can't be replicated online.

However, with retailers offering customized products, the Internet can be an even more effective multichannel tool to provide a visualization of the product.

In a merging of the online and in-store worlds, some bricks-and-mortar stores are beginning to use employee-assisted kiosks to show the final product before a special, customized order is placed. This twist on traditional retail affirms a shopper's preference to see the finished product before purchasing and provides an online experience in the store.

Traditionally, retailers selling personalized products such as wedding invitations carry large sample books that show how certain colors and fonts look on various invitations. Retailers had no way to show what the final product would look like.

The next generation of the traditional in-store kiosk allows sales representatives to use the store's e-commerce site to demonstrate the visualization of a custom product. The transaction is assisted by a sales associate, and the order can be placed online through the kiosk.

A sales representative can show customers how their wording in the chosen color and font looks on the specific invitation they've selected. With this use of technology, the buyer doesn't have to wait for a proof and can immediately approve the design on the screen. When the order is placed online at the kiosk, the customer can have access to tracking numbers to monitor the shipment.

Using customization takes retail out of the commodity game. A merchant may sell a bathrobe in a nice color, but shoppers can go online and find the least expensive one by searching several sites.

When a retailer offers customization, such as printing, engraving and embroidery, it becomes the only place to find that unique product.

And retailers are beginning to offer even more personalization options including photo uploads, custom color combinations and licensed characters on everything from baby strollers to neckties.

Retailers that connect their in-store kiosks with their e-commerce sites will help their sales staff improve a shopper's multichannel experience by providing the personal experience of an in-store environment coupled with the online benefits of visualization and long-distance gifting.

Andrew Krasner is director of strategic services at Fry Inc., Ann Arbor, MI. Reach him at akrasner@fry.com.

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