Retail Technology: The Future

31st Oct 2014

Photo credit: My Retail Media

The key to successful selling for any retailer is simply understanding one's customers – what it is they want and how best to provide them with it. One of the most common research modes is data collection, which raises the question of how best to analyse enormous amounts of information. Companies can access the views and advice of consumers and suppliers with great ease, but the correct analytics tools are necessary in order to properly understand the data they are presented with.

The collection of information en masse first occurred notably through airlines, which, since the 1980s have operated frequent flyer programs which allowed customers to utilize their trips, as well as form a bond with the brand. The method was brought to a broader market in 2002 when Nectar – the UK's biggest loyalty scheme – was launched. Since then e-commerce has become increasingly prolific, and brands are always searching for effective methods of understanding big data.

Reputation is an imperative factor, and certainly the more innovative companies have reaped the benefits. The combination of online shopping with bricks-and-mortar stores can both help and hinder one another, and present previously unexpected opportunities. An example of this is the idea of “show-rooming” - where consumers test out stock in-store but make the actual purchase online, which has hurt various sectors financially, particularly the electronics sector. Retailers need to close the sale whatever the method, be it physical or e-commerce.

All online browsing leaves a trail that brands can investigate – Twitter for example is being used currently by the music industry to put marketing campaigns in place, as well as combat piracy. Geographic locations can even be recorded, so musicians can see where they are the most popular and how this correlates with sales. This is also possible with bricks-and-mortar retailers, when consumers connect to the wifi in shopping centres, and therefore help with issues such as staff placement and layout of the store. American department store Macy's take this to a higher level, by tracking stock using radio frequency identification (RFID), in an attempt to bring together the online and physical platforms. Consumer satisfaction is improved by this unity, as, if a piece of stock is unavailable in one store/online it can be found elsewhere and delivered.

Information from a specific individual can also be a tremendous boon – especially when people give product reviews and steer other shoppers towards certain stock through the use of mobile devices. One recent issue has been the lack of necessity for store cards, as they come with clear consent forms, though so far it seems as if consumers are happy to provide tracking technologies with their consent for a catered-to, thoughtful experience in return, in the style of store loyalty cards.

Big data has been used from a manual perspective for a while now, by facilities workers who are able to keep track of all areas of their bricks-and-mortar sites. Any facility problems, lights and heating can all be altered remotely. Electronics platform Arduino formed a partnership with Intel in order to create a good-value development board, so that all aspects of the building sector can be controlled through the use of the cloud, made even simpler with the increasing usage of smartphones and tablets, and increasing the power individuals have over their business property.

The most attractive aspect of this new data technology is undoubtedly the chance to estimate consumer’s behaviour patterns and provide accordingly. The combination of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar allows for a far deeper insight for brands into customers' habits, allowing for a more personal, satisfactory service. However it is imperative to know when to prevent research becoming intrusive – a feeling of persistence or a breach of privacy would put a shopper off a retailer for life. This idea begs the question – where can retail technology go next? So many advances have been made in recent years, and a personal, attentive experience that caters to the individual is already widely available, with shoppers not even needing to change webpage to make a purchase, let alone leave their home. How far, one wonders, will retailers go to attract new customers, and just how imaginative can they be?

Elizabeth McLoughlin

My Retail Media

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