James Miller, Lead Creative Technologist, London
As society becomes increasingly more connected, consumers have become more demanding. From the comfort of our own homes we are now able to access detailed information on products and buy them instantly. This not only avoids the higher prices of the high street, but also the effort of having to trek down there.
No one can deny that traditional retail has some fearsome competition from online retailers. But by largely ignoring the advances of technology and failing to incorporate them into their stores, retailers are losing valuable opportunities to engage their customers with tailored experiences.
The personal touch has always been important. Shoppers are more likely to favour a store where their preferences are remembered and their quirks are catered for. Retailers who want loyal customers need to build that personal relationship – and technology is offering innovative new ways to do this.
Over Christmas 2014, Yves Saint Lauren used Google Glass to record customers while they were given a personal makeup tutorial. The video was emailed to them, so they could replicate the same effects when using the products back at home.
Sticking with Google Glass, Virgin Atlantic members of staff in the First-Class lounge are alerted to the arrival of passengers and fed personal details through the wearable tech. They can then greet them by name, give updated details on their journey and provide local information on their destination.
Consumers will never completely abandon the high street, but nor will they give up the ease and freedom they have gained from technology. Retailer strategies should endeavour to treat both online and offline as an omni-channel experience. The ideal being that there is only one continual interaction between the customer and the brand, achieving a truly personal touch through the use of technology.
This isn’t as complicated nor as far off in the future as it sounds. Already with iBeacon technology, online users can be identified when arriving in-store. The retailer can immediately connect to the customer’s online account, providing the floor staff with information about their shopping habits and clothing size, as well as their current ‘wish list’ and even unprocessed items in their online shopping basket. This information can be used to give a VIP experience to the customer – delivering tailored offers and promoting specific products that are more likely to be attractive than those aimed at the public as a whole.
At the moment, this requires the user to have an app installed on their smartphone. The tricky part comes in persuading the customer to download one in the first place.
But it will soon be a whole lot easier. As the ability to pay for things shifts towards smartphones, they will become one of the most successful ways of delivering an omni-channel experience. Last year, Apple introduced Apple Pay, which will provide the same experience offered by contactless bankcards. Technology is making in-store purchases possible through just a tap of a phone – a trend which will extend to loyalty cards and store accounts. With these services becoming app-based, retailers will gain a point of entry for creating a personalised in-store experience.
More than anything, retailers need to aim for the “wow-factor” when combining traditional retail with technology, hitting the sweet spot between experiences that captivate shoppers and those that provide genuine utility. Those that pioneer will be the winners, gaining custom and publicity as consumers flock to them to experience the personalised treatment triggered by the next evolution of retail technology.