NEW YORK—One of the greatest challenges businesses face in today’s age of artificial intelligence is finding the right balance between technology and human interaction. Hitting on this equilibrium was the focus of Liza Amlani’s session with her lunch-time presentation titled, “Keeping the Customer In Focus: Clienteling for Retail Eyewear.” As the principal and founder of the Retail Strategy Group, Amlani has used her experience to help businesses improve profitability and organizational effectiveness by using the latest technology and most provocative retail trends.

Liza Amlani, founder of the Retail Strategy Group, said, “To understand the buying habits of customers,
technologies such as AI should complement rather than dominate the customer experience.”

Despite a wealth of technology available to retail businesses these days, Amlani began her talk with a simple statement: technology alone will not solve anything. She believes that businesses still must focus on one-on-one interaction with customers in order to understand buying habits and trends, by using technologies such as AI to complement rather than dominate the customer experience.

“What you are going to have to do is have the right balance of touch and technology,” she said, noting that problems such as inventory management, planning, marketing and digital integration will all have to “marry up” with touch. “The more technology is introduced to us, the more we’re going to value human touch,” she said.

Amlani said this is the key to driving engagement with customers and tailoring the shopping experience to their needs, noting businesses need to know why customers are making a purchase.

“What we have to do as a retailer, as store owners, as optical owners, is understand why that purchase is personal,” she said. “We are in the business of selling. We are in the business of making a profit. So, we need to know what we’re facing today.”

With most stores offering online buying options and social media creating a landscape of influencers pushing buying habits, Amlani reminded attendees that many customers have already done their research and pre-shopped prior to visiting a brick-and-mortar location. Customers are more brand savvy and are looking for retail experiences that align with their values, something Amlani said is influencing the buying habits of Millennials and Gen Z shoppers.

Amlani said, consumers want to engage with brands that have values that align with their own values. But similar values are not enough to secure a purchase with omnichannel, direct to consumer and online marketplaces that make convenience a determining factor for consumer purchases.

As retailers, “we have a lot more ways for the customer to engage with us, but also shop with us. We also have a more diverse product assortment. There are additional expenses, both physical and social. And all of that is impacted and fraught with a lot more choice,” she said.

Noting that customers have more choices when it comes to purchasing eyewear with big box stores and chains, these large retailers have become major competitors to independent optical. Amlani said it is now up to businesses to enhance customer loyalty and increase engagement through building relationships and trust.

“There is an abundance of data out there, and it’s just the data we’re capturing in our POS system. We’re capturing insights from talking to the customer, seeing what their bodies and minds are searching for because we need to drive the right products at the right time,” she said.

Amlani noted there is a lot more choice and businesses need to understand why customers are shopping with them and what is important to their purchasing decision.

“Engagement and insight is critical because you need to keep up with your customers. Fashion, it’s a personal purchase. We know there’s a business case here, but there has to be the balance between tech and touch,” she said. “When you have that audience, you can capture insights, drive loyalty, product assortments, [and supplying] the right product at the right time and place is going to get you the customer.”