The retail industry is going through an interesting time. Shoppers expect a more personalised experience, almost a return to old-fashioned values of the local store.
However, the proliferation of high street chains and supermarkets has made shopping rather more impersonal.
Technology means that can change though.
All customers are different, with diverging wants and needs that they expect retailers to understand and meet. When these individuals are treated like a sales statistic, it becomes harder for the retailer to foster a sense of loyalty.
To understand the motivations behind each customer’s purchase, retailers are embracing technology and social media.
1. ECG-authenticated payment
The Royal Bank of Canada is trailing ECG-authenticated micro-payments in Canada. Just slap on a Nymi bracelet and head out. The band uses the wearer’s heart rhythm to confirm their identity, and sends the information to compatible devices via Bluetooth.
The system is secure, because the bracelet can’t authenticate data unless it’s being worn by the owner.
It doesn’t seem more convenient than mobile or contactless card payments, but it seems more secure, and this could be an attractive option for many retailers and customers.
2. Tailoring offers to customers using iBeacons
Several Regent Street shops are using iBeacons to target shoppers who use the Regent Street app which lets people choose what shops to receive offers from when they’re in the area.
In June 2014 Armani, Hamleys and Karl Lagerfeld signed up to the app which delivers targeted offers to people’s phones as they walk by.
People have to opt in to use this service (by downloading the app and selecting which shops to get offers from), so the service is clearly valuable to those who use it.
In 2015 we should see more chains using iBeacons to deliver relevant offers to individuals, which will both save the customer time and be an effective tool for increasing footfall.
3.Facial recognition systems and sensors
In the US, Walmart is using a system of sensors which records customer behaviour when they select items from the shelves. And some clothing shops are using facial recognition cameras in mannequins to profile their customers, and analyse their reactions (such as when they wonder if the shirt they’re looking at is available in another colour).
Both systems are used to help retailers provide a better service for customers, but there are understandable concerns about privacy.
But the biggest growth in retail technology in my view though will be a bit more public, and focus on delivering great service to the customer, rather than making them nervous about privacy. There are two areas to watch: social listening and mobile.
Social listening is already used by many retailers to spot when a customer has an issue, but hasn’t raised it with the retailer directly, for example.
However, more retailers are using social listening to provide proactive customer service, or simple engagement (like starting a conversation with someone who talks about the brand on Twitter).
This kind of engagement may not be as urgent as fixing issues before they become a crisis, but simple conversations do a lot to build up the image and reputation of a brand over time and should not be ignored.
One study showed that 67% of consumers have used a brands social media site for customer service issues, while just 33% used it to respond to marketing.
5.The continued rise of mobile devices
Mobile shopping is becoming less of a novelty for consumers. They expect to be able to browse a retailer’s mobile site, or app, without encountering any significant issues. As mobile shopping moves more into the mainstream, consumers will be less forgiving of retailers that don’t provide a seamless service.
I also expect retailers to invest more money in creating engaging mobile campaigns and social content in 2015. As the Gen Z market becomes more influential, retailers that have yet to embrace mobile, social media and personalisation, will realise that they are all areas that require significant investment.
Developments in retail technology are enabling retailers to offer a more bespoke service to customers. Rather than using traditional methods of insight, such as consumer research and focus groups, retailers can get to know their customers as individuals and tailor their offering accordingly. People can expect to see more retailers using these methods, and more, to greater effect in 2015.