If you have been shopping at a Banana Republic Factory store in the past year, you may have noticed something new. Banana Republic is working with “flok,” a third-party customer experience platform, to deliver a more tech-friendly shopping experience for loyal customers. The details are mostly familiar – rewards for repeat customers, product recommendations, a virtual help desk – but Banana Republic is also looking for ways to go beyond the standard branded app. Working with flok’s platform, rather than producing a standalone app, is just one interesting example.

While it will take some time to see the results, there are already some takeaways here that we can apply to any business that’s looking to engage customers through tech, and how the in-store experience is evolving to keep up with e-commerce.

The app is dead… long live the app?

The first interesting thing, which I touched on briefly in the opening, is that the new Banana Republic in-store experience is not delivered directly through a Banana Republic branded app. It looks like a Banana Republic branded app, but it’s powered by flok’s third-party platform. While Banana Republic surely has a capable marketing team, working with another company that focuses solely on the tech side of the customer experience is a great way to minimize bugs and deliver a polished, tested experience.

Another advantage is that it’s simply becoming difficult to convince customers to download a branded app, in part because it’s such a crowded market. Seriously, check your phone. How many app icons do you have, and how many of them do you open with any regularity? That doesn’t mean those unused apps are bad, but most of us are experiencing some app fatigue thanks to market saturation. Since flok works with other big-name retailers as well, driving downloads (and actual usage) should be a bit easier.

The discount scheme is standard app fare, so if you like shopping at Banana Republic there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate the occasional loyalty discount or even a free pair of pants. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing groundbreaking, either. However, this app does offer something that goes the extra mile for customers.

The benefits of streamlined, tech-friendly customer service

Do you ever get frustrated when you’re in a clothing store and you can’t find a sales rep? If you’re in Banana Republic and have a question, you can access a live chat function directly from the app. It’s a nod to the online shopping experience, and one customers will likely appreciate. Just as live chat allows us to avoid a phone call when seeking answers online, in-store live chat allows for fewer interruptions during shopping.

No need to wait in line or track down a sales rep when you’ve got answers at your fingertips. The potential downside is that the chat function is powered by AI, so the programming needs to be on point or it will be more trouble than it’s worth. Given the advances in AI in recent years, the risk is less pronounced than it would have been in the past. Siri may not get it right every time, for example, but she can certainly be a handy assistant in a pinch. You can even get messages straight from Banana Republic as you move from one clothing rack to the next.

Overall, I love what Banana Republic is trying to do here, by creating more engagement with customers during the in-store experience. The pluses and minuses of this particular program will only become clear over time, but the ideas behind it are solid… find new ways to add value and interact and engage with your customers. #FollowThePath

Originally posted at The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce

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