This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
This year will bring incredible change and innovation in the retail industry, especially around how retailers interact with their customers, says Brendan O’Meara, senior director of Worldwide Retail and Consumer Goods at Microsoft.
Propelled by the latest mobile and in-store technologies, retailers are now able to bring the modern shopping journey to life, creating instant, personalised experiences for shoppers on their smartphone, online and in stores.
But they need to move fast. In its latest report, Global Powers of Retailing 2015: Embracing Innovation, Deloitte says that “personalised websites and e-mails have become the norm, and consumers are looking for this personalisation to extend into their in-store experiences.”
In January at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo, Microsoft, alongside its partners, demonstrated how it is helping retailers to reinvent the in-store shopping experience for customers and showcased some innovative scenarios to bring digital into the store.
One solution being presented was AvaRetail’s Shelf Tracker – a system that uses the Microsoft Kinect sensor to observe the behaviour of people in stores. “Shelf Tracker allows every interaction with the shelf to be monitored and recorded in real time,” says O’Meara. “What it’s actually doing is understanding where the shopper is in the store, the merchandise they’re in front of and, if they’re grabbing an item off the shelf, it can identify what exactly they’re planning to purchase. This gives retailers immediate insight into customer purchasing behaviours and enables them to personalise the shopper experience. For example, they can provide further details about a particular product they’re interested in.”
Also on show was the NEC Biometric interface with the Kinect camera system, which can track who’s in store. Using facial recognition, the application can determine an individual’s age and gender, helping retailers to provide a more personal selling experience. It can also provide 3D views of the customer to determine their level of engagement with the products – and all of this information is stored away for further analysis by the retailer.
Other ways in which retailers can create more immersive shopping experiences is by taking advantage of beacons. Together with Avanade, Footmarks demonstrated what is possible with beacons beyond broadcast messages and coupons, showing off a new social shopping experience that allows customers to use the beacons to leave messages for family and friends who are likely to visit the same store. So if you’ve forgotten the milk, you can simply remind your partner who will get a message when they visit the store later.
“Most retailers who are using beacon technology are using it to track the movement of shoppers in the store and, at best, to target them with relevant geo-spatial offerings,” says Avanade’s chief technology innovation officer Florin Rotar. “We believe that this is a one-sided approach, so we have teamed with Footmarks to innovate scenarios where a shopper can instead use the beacon to leave a message for another family member who would likely go to the same store on a later occasion.”
As Chad Brown, CEO of retail omni-channel platform provider Xomni, explains, the key to delivering great in-store experiences is to deliver a personalised service, using technology to enhance rather than complicate the shopping journey.
“In the golden age of retail, customers used to walk into their local store and the owner would know exactly who they were,” he says. “As a result, he was able to offer products he knew they needed or wanted, and give them useful advice. And although that’s what we need to return to, we must make that experience relevant in the modern world.”
Highlighting GameStop as a great example of what retailers can do today to attract customers into their stores, Brown says that it is those that find ways of responding to the customer and personalising their shopping journey so that they are presenting the right product, price or promotion at the right time are the ones that will come out on top. “This requires technology that is flexible enough to enable new in-store scenarios that blend mobile, beacons, store devices and online-powered back-end systems,” he explains.
“More than ever, retailers must find innovative ways to connect and engage with their customers,” says O’Meara. “Implementing technologies like these will help retailers maximise customer satisfaction and promote sales, giving them another way to compete in the modern retail landscape.”
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