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It's difficult to believe that the iPad only launched three years ago. Everyone knew a naysayer: 'Why do I need it? I have a laptop, I have a mobile – the iPad is just a gimmick somewhere in between'.

There's a heavy sense of deja vu with Google Glass. The naysayers of the world once again unite to knock a device before it has even had time to get off the ground.

Perhaps they will be proved correct or, as with the iPad, the naysayers will eat their words and Google Glass will become the new must have device.

Some innovative uses of Glass have already begun to be showcased, the latest including the broadcast of an operation through the eyes of a surgeon.  

Recent reports revealed that an app store is on the way as early as next year, which will only stand to increase adoption rate. Such opportunities for third party developers, together with the massive hype behind Glass’ arrival, will no doubt prompt brands and retailers alike to explore how it can improve the shopping experience.

Through the retail looking glass

Many commentators have pointed to better integration with mobile devices as the wonder solution when resolving the demise of the high street in recent years.

Handsets have certainly begun to help offline retailers, giving them the ability to link consumers, devices, and data to offer more personalised shopping experiences.

In this regard, Google Glass and other new wearable technologies could well prove a valuable new way to better connect with customers. 

Google Glass has the potential to improve the customer experience at all stages of the shopping cycle – whether it’s information on product availability, special offers and suggested alternatives or directions to what they’re looking for in-store.

Recent research we conducted with YouGov showed that even before Glass has launched, a good number of consumers would see benefit in the new device.

One in three consumers (38%) said that they would use Google Glass to create a shopping route, over a quarter (27%) would use it to check stock availability and 22% said they would like Glass to unlock additional offers and promotions. 

Glass for all?

Just as discussion grows around how Glass can be used, there seems to remain equal noise about how it will be received.

Only recently the European Commission and a number of other countries have sent an open letter to senior execs at Google asking whether it is equipped to deal with the privacy implications of Glass.

Our research, however, found that large swathes of the population would be against any moves by retailers to prevent the use of wearable technology in-store, with almost half of consumers (42%) reporting that they feel retailers shouldn’t be allowed to ban them from wearing Google Glass when shopping. 

Moreover, it wasn’t so much an issue of privacy that our research raised, but rather how consumers would feel about actually wearing the device.

Findings revealed that 62% of consumers would feel very or fairly embarrassed to wear Google Glass while shopping  However, this does not tell the full story, as between men and women there is a significant difference, with almost 70% of women reporting they would feel very or fairly embarrassed, compared to just over half of men (54%).

In addition, while it is perhaps not very surprising that consumers over 55 years old typically felt the most embarrassed to wear the device, it’s interesting to note that this age range reported the highest number of people to ‘not feel embarrassed at all’ by wearing Google Glass at 14%.

Perhaps it’s not just younger people that are interested in wearable technology. 

Time will tell

There is clear potential for Glass to help the high street retailer. Its projected popularity means that it will become an important part of many of their customers’ lives, with Juniper Research guessing that nearly 15m wearable smart devices to be sold globally this year, and nearly 70m to be sold by 2017. 

At the same time, however, retailers need to truly understand how Glass will seamlessly fit into their customers’ shopping ecosystem if it is to be a true success in their stores. 

As with any in-store technology, innovation from a retail point of view needs to offer value to both the retailer and the customer.

If it’s too complex or inapproachable, then the consumer won’t use it. If it’s too expensive to configure, it will prove too costly for the retailer to maintain and draw value from.

In this respect the age old rules apply – any new technology that retailers advocate in shopping outlets needs to deliver an all-round better customer service if it’s to help their bottom line. The retail industry waits with baited breathe to see which major player achieves this first. 

James Cronin

Published 18 September, 2013 by James Cronin

James Cronin is Founder and Group CIO at Venda and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow on FacebookLinkedin and Twitter

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