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According to many industry experts, Australian retailers need to start incorporating new technologies into their stores this year in order to better engage consumers.
The use of technology in stores has grown significantly over the past few years, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. QR codes on shopfronts, iPads in restaurants and businesses, mobile wallets, interactive advertising walls - the list goes on.
This is something Econsultancy has discussed previously - especially in the context of Australian consumer expectations and from the perspective of retailers themselves - but it's also a general issue at the forefront of the industry.
IBM’s Global Head of Retail, Ian Wong, summarises this sentiment well and expects the pending year to hold many evolving aspects for traditional bricks-and-mortar stores:
In the next 12 months, the technologies to be adopted will be around providing digital interaction channels to the consumer, such as online stores, mobile apps, social communities, and register-less point of sale.
Focusing specifically on this point around technologies, what is expected to be of greatest importance during 2013? And how can they assist businesses in succeeding?
Real time customer feedback
Singapore is often cited to be leading the way forward in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of technology-driven customer feedback - and Australia should take note of this.
For example, touch-screen feedback surveys can be found in Changi airport, allowing passengers to rate the cleanliness of different amenities.
Instead of waiting for an email complaint or an angry verbal comment about a particular area, airport staff are notified automatically when a facility receives a number of negative responses on the touch screen, allowing them to quickly and efficiently deal with the problem.
If you’re thinking that having touch screen surveys in toilets seems somewhat superfluous, Foo Sek Min, Executive VP of Changi Airport, strongly counters this when he explains that "serving the customer well always correlates with earning money".
This is an element that Econsultancy has frequently explored and is now all the more important in an age of social media and widespread consumer technology, yet seems to have a slow adoption rate in Australia.
Interactive advertising walls
A while ago, my colleague, Jake Hird, listed multiple examples of brands using interactive offline advertising. At the time, marketers could be seen to be toying with this emerging digital medium, but now, it's not out of the ordinary to see such technology.
Specifically in Australia, women’s retail chain Sportsgirl has somewhat adapted this for their stores, offering billboards that feature regularly updated products accompanied by QR codes. A consumer just needs to scan the code with their smartphone and then they will be taken to Sportsgirl’s mobile store, where they can pay for the item and have it delivered.
Qantas also developed an interactive wall that was recently placed in Sydney's Town Hall station, where people could use a phone app to enagage with a large digital billboard.
Both examples are cited in the Future of Digital Marketing presentation from Digital Cream Sydney last year, where elements of engagement were explored as a way to combat consumer blindness to advertising.
Anthony Collins, from the MediaWall echoes this notion, saying that new interactive advertising walls need to be incorporated into business plans:
Display blindness is a real problem for advertisers. People will walk past a [traditional] billboard and not take notice of it. We found what was needed was something a bit unexpected, to attract focus and draw in attention.
Without diving into too much detail, mobile - including tablets - will be a core component of future retail technology.
Although there are many complexities within mobile as a channel, what is certain is that it can be used by retailers as a bridge between online and offline.
As such, it follows that mobile will be an important and successful part of future retail strategy, if used properly.
Online personal shoppers
One retailer in the US has gone as far as to offer online personal shoppers, attempting to create an “inclusive, exclusive relationship” with their consumers.
According to Mark Hurd, Oracle global president, when a consumer logs on to this particular website a personal shopper is immediately alerted and a notification is sent to the shopper asking them if they require assistance.
Types of questions asked by the personal shopper include, ‘What are you looking for? How are things going? Do you need me? Do you know about this promotion?’.
It seems retailers of the future need to create a more personalised experience to build loyalty, and as Hurd explains, the personal shopper concept is a way to do this online.
You're having a real-time chat as you're looking at the website. The personal shopper can look at the website as you do and there's a personal experience.
You don't even have to click to buy. It's better than Amazon. They will ask you in the chat if you want to buy it and it's done.
The question here is, why hasn't this been adopted by Australian retailers?
Perhaps one of the most frequently talked about technologies of 2013 is interactive maps for shopping centres.
Using an interactive map to guide consumers through a shopping centre isn’t a new idea; stand-alone touch-screen kiosks are now fairly commonplace, but the ability to have this interactivity on a mobile handset is relatively new.
Westfields is one notable Australian retailer that has created this functionality, but the US store Macy's has taken a step further, trialling an app which provides a not only map of the different internal store departments, but it also invites consumers to accept push- marketing promotions, which alerts shoppers to promotions directly relating to their physical position in the store.
The way forward for Australia
As commerce becomes increasingly entwined with technology, retailers have to come up with more creative ways to enhance customer experience and set themselves apart.
Staying competitive in the digital world is definitely more challenging, but it certainly doesn’t mean having to eradicatre existing bricks-and-mortar stores.
However, it does mean that retailers have to begin focusing on strategies that encompass digital elements - and already there are multiple examples of this being executed exceptionally well at a local level.
As Ian Wong suggests:
It should come as no surprise to retailers that digital technologies and the web are impacting the industry in a major way.
Brands that are truly succeeding are the ones that are delivering a consistent, positive, and personalised experience for customers across various channels – online, mobile, in-store.
[Image credit: nobihaya]