By Lyle Bunn, Principal, BUNN Co.
The focus for brands is now fully on improving the retail experience for consumers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that visits to retail stores have declined 64 percent, from 35 billion in 2010 to 13 billion in 2015. So technology providers must stand ready to leap into the retail fray.
Christian Davies, executive creative director, Americas, of Fitch, a WPP retail and brand consultancy with offices in 14 cities worldwide, declared during the National Retail Federation conference earlier this year, that, "Agility is protection against disruption."
Davies advised that "sprint cycles, rapid prototyping, roadmapping, and new measurement and analytics, under the umbrella approach of "Launch-Improve-Repeat" is essential to retail innovation. Davies cited Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric who said, "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."
Many examples of digital engagement where presented and demonstrated during the NRF conference, Retail's BIG Show 2016, earlier this year that can help provide a roadmap for experiential customer engagement.
Marco Ventura of T1V noted, "At Lowe's the display is used as an engagement device. Digital will enable smaller stores in particular through customer engagement and inventory visibility." The display in question shows a full-size refrigerator and through a touchscreen interface, allows consumers and associates to compare models, leading to selection and ordering for shipment.
British Telecom used a mock fashion store to demonstrate technology-enabled retail. Alison Wiltshire, global propositions director, retailing and consumer engagement at BT, said that "associate-assisted selling, linking the retail floor with the online experience and back office, and insights at the levels of store, chain and customer are key to improving loyalty, revenues and margins."
The BT mock store included:
- Detection or recognition of patrons;
- Tagging of products using RFID;
- Branding display;
- On-shelf messaging;
- Product messages triggered by product examination;
- Message push to mobile;
- Mirror of mobile image on a display screen;
- An advanced fitting room with mirrored, interactive display, through which the combination of tagged items, customer interaction and sales associate awareness could improve the shopping experience; and
- Customer purchase history that can inform product suggestions.
The common elements included the integration of the retail floor and online experiences and "personalizing" the store to erase the lines between online and physical. Sales associate support and suggested selling help in shopper conversion. The in-store experience enables "send to email" and addition to the customer folio, which further supports suggestive selling.
Radio Frequency Identification tagging of merchandise and the geo-awareness of the merchandise and shoppers provide insights related to shopper browse and purchase behaviors. Digital messages can be triggered through RFID when a product is examined and this, as well as insights from the fitting room, can inform a sales associate of product interest and inform store layout, merchandising and promotions.
"Associated assisted selling is key," said Wiltshire, adding, "Linking the retail floor with back office is the driver, with digital insights at the levels of store, chain and customer being key."
As Mikhail Damiani, CEO of BlueBite, which provided the mTAG dual Beacon for the BT exhibit, noted: "Customer Learning is changing, and that is changing what retail is."
At the show, Intel also demonstrated innovations that can help retailers make the "big pivot" as data is used to manage the business related to supply/demand and shopper knowledge.
Intel demonstrated over 15 innovations to empower retail success in the areas of wearables, personalized marketing, interactive shopping experiences, Memory Mirror , mobile payment solutions, data protection technology for transactions, POS data analytics and end-to-end retail analytics.
RFID innovations demonstrated by Intel included a printable ink that is machine-readable and shelf pegs as RFID-readers that can link to back-office applications of re-stocking, loss-awareness and misplaced products.
Intelligent digital shelves could be expected to transform the customer experience. Intel went beyond shelf-level display and the triggering of digital messages when a product is picked up for examination as profiled at previous NRF and Digital Signage Expo events, to demonstrate gesture-based information provisioning. A patron need simply point to a product to have information such as ingredients, country of source, features, benefits, uses or other information presented on the shelf display.
Virtual and augmented reality also were demonstrated by numerous exhibitors, with each noting that this digital medium has challenges in orientation and navigation being addressed, even as Oculus (Rift), Google Cardboard and many other options vie for attention.
GoInStore, headquartered in London, demonstrated how a product view through eyeglasses worn by a store associate could be seen by a store patron viewing online, who could get advice from the store associate and then simply order the product online for store pick up or ship to home.
Insights into innovating in retail were offered in a session titled "Storming Silicon Valley: The Leading Edge of Retail Tech Labs" that included panelists Douglas Weich, CEO, Sophelle; Scot Wingo, executive chairman, chairman of the board and co-founder, ChannelAdvisor Corp.; Scott Emmons, head of the Innovation Lab, enterprise architect of Neiman Marcus; Manolo Almagro Sr., managing director, technology and innovation, TPN; and Michael Cooper, SVP, CIO of GameStop Inc. In making innovation happen, they advised:
- Prepare their organization/partners/customers;
- Partner – Don't do it alone;
- Test – Be good at it, and get analytics;
- Pivot – Don't get locked into a solution;
- Fail fast and cheap;
- Learn; and
- Deploy high ROI successes widely and quickly.
"Just as the Internet and Google have expanded our 'knowing' ability, the Internet of Things will expand our sensory world and the knowledge of what is happening in the physical world," Wingo said. "Machine intelligence is already coming next."
Lyle Bunn provides digital media industry analysis, education and counsel. He can be reached at Lyle@LyleBunn.com.
Cover image courtesy of The National Retail Federation.