Retailers are turning to new technology that will bring shopping into the realm of science fiction.
Smart mirrors will understand your fashion tastes to recommend products that you’ll more than likely love. An array of sensors attached to every aisle and display case will know when you stare at a product. There will even be sensors that analyze your facial expressions to discover your mood and reaction towards a product display.
While such technology is exciting for retailers, there is no denying that many shoppers will see it as an intrusion. The only way brands can combat those feelings is to provide experiences that impress customers and, more importantly, help them save money and find great products.
In order to elevate the retail store to its former glory, brands must effectively use the technology to better understand customers and provide them with experiences not found online.
Personalized Shopping Experiences In-Store
Every time a shopper browses a website, they are inundated with recommendations at the bottom of a page, on a sidebar, or in the final checkout window.
Now that beacons, custom mobile apps, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) appliances are easily accessible to retailers, such experiences will begin to show up in real life. Using smartphone signals, beacons, and BLE appliances, retailers can track a shopper’s location and measure appropriate metrics and patterns in browsing habits.
Using the example of Ikea, a retailer renowned for its sprawling warehouse, one can see the value of enhanced technology in a brick-and-mortar location. Whether you’re a college student buying futons and cheap lamps, or a couple expecting their first child in need of a crib, Ikea has something for everyone.
With the abundance of products and the multitude of customers that enter locations, enhanced navigation experience and product discovery is a no brainer. Beacons combined with in-store maps can provide custom navigation paths through stores that are personalized by customer profiles and shopping list.
College students will receive a path through their Ikea app that quickly arrives at futons, coffee machines, and space heaters. For the expecting mom and dad, the path will bypass items for teenagers and adults and stick to the products meant for toddlers.
Tracking and Analysis to Improve Store Design
The pattern tracking and trend analysis capabilities that are possible with beacons are a goldmine for marketers, but intrusive to customers. Steps have been taken to ensure anonymity, such as using the Unique Device Identifier (UDID) number to track customers, and the software sticks to tracking masses rather than individuals.
Similar to how web development teams use mouse-tracking, heat-maps, and cookies to assess history and habits of users, retailers will incorporate such analysis via beacons and mobile device signals. By tracking UDIDs, retailers can analyze patterns and trends in browsing. With such accurate insight in hand, decision makers can introduce small tweaks to store layouts and designs.
Brands with thousands of franchise locations can run A/B tests on introductory locations to test out store alterations in real time. If the changes are seen to produce a boost in sales, they can be applied across the entire fleet of locations. Even smaller businesses are using beacons to optimize their operations.
Coffee shops and eateries can post a beacon outside their storefront to quantify potential foot traffic, returning visitors, and first time customers. An array of metrics can be tracked and analyzed, from average time spent waiting in line to identifying the number of visitors only using a location for the free Wi-Fi or bathroom access.
The Future of Shopping
With 84% of shoppers using smartphones while shopping, retail brands must infuse their locations with a tech-savvy revamp. Burberry, Ikea and Starbucks are pioneers when it comes to introducing popular technology into their store experiences.
Companies such as Office Depot and Best Buy are scaling down stores and paying increased attention to in-store optimization. Burberry was so successful at invigorating physical shopping that Apple hired their former CEO Angela Ahrendts to head retail efforts.
In 2014, these trends will emerge as major initiatives for retail brands to attract more traffic to their physical locations.
Himanshu Sareen is CEO of Icreon Tech, a global software development firm delivering business solutions and custom applications to customers including National Geographic Channel, Fox, PepsiCo, and Nokia Siemens Networks. He is responsible for the strategic and overall business development of Icreon. He founded Icreon in 2000 and grew the company through a mix of acquisitions and organic growth.