Since the first caveman swapped a hairy mammoth steak for a pile of curiously wheel-shaped rocks, commerce has been the driving force behind human innovation and discovery. But while shopping may be deep in our DNA, the oil that keeps civilization moving, new technologies are transforming trade and taking it out of the Stone Age. Paul Price of creative technology company CRI talks us through these innovations and explains why advertisers really should be paying attention to changes in the way we do our weekly supermarket sweep.
The big difference between marketing in the 20th century and the 21st is the increasingly fluid way in which brands and consumers experience one another.
It’s no longer a question of virtual or physical or online or offline – marketers need to be managing their brand experience of both all the time, almost everywhere and in almost every category.
Catalysing this revolution is the explosion of new technologies converging to change almost everything. Combinations of new communications, internet, display and computing technologies give marketers an unprecedented opportunity to deploy inspiring new consumer experiences.
Bridging the online and offline worlds whilst catering to proliferating technology is a challenge that all brands face. One way of addressing this puzzle is to design innovative marketing equipment to be used in physical world. This then provides consumers with a connection between the virtual and physical worlds. Of course it can be tricky for clients to navigate this new landscape, so it is important to help them along the way by involving them in the design process and making sure their needs are fully understood.
We believe that, ultimately, all brands are experiences. For each individual consumer interacting with a product, a ‘brand’ is the sum of that consumer’s own subjective experiences and perceptions. Our design and engineering teams put this idea at the center of their efforts to ensure experiences which are consumer-relevant and brand-centric.
There are a number of revolutionary technological initiatives which are changing the way we shop, and marketers would be wise to get their heads around them in order to gain the upper hand in this new era.
1. Infinite Assortment
Lost sales due to out-of-stock situations is a common, hard-to-solve problem. Not every store is the same, stock is lost or simply not delivered or simply misplaced. By combining interactive digital displays linked to on-line inventory, customers never have to leave the store empty-handed. Many retailers already offer in-store “search and send” services. Going further, think of your own interactive consoles allowing access to any inventory item and enabling purchase and next day shipping of the item your customer wanted. You should never lose another sale due to out-of-stock.
Artificial Intelligence systems linked to purchasing data and running advanced predictive purchasing algorithms are already influencing ecommerce sales on sites like Amazon. Delivering this experience in-store can help cross or up-sell by giving your customers suggestions based on their past purchases, the most popular purchases or complementary purchases.
Recommendation Engines are one of the most important new changes in the retail landscape. As smartphone penetration increases bringing with it wider use of the growing number of shopping Apps, your customer is more likely than ever to be influenced by recommendations. Every retailer should be thinking about how to offer the very same experience before customers reach for their smartphones.
3. Virtual Sales Assistance
So many sales go wrong without the right sales assistance - for example giving no information or the wrong information. Mobile technologies coupled to live databases and smart interfaces can augment your salesforce’s skills by either getting the info they need right away or suggesting more info such as other merchandise. A growing list of potential digital sales assistant tools is being enabled by the flood of new mobile tablets, application technologies and AI platforms.
When your store’s footprint is large enough to confuse customers, sales are inevitably lost. But location isn’t the only issue. Searching and finding merchandise bundles, themes, events or categories are all drivers of sales. Interactive wayfinders located around your store help capture sales from customers who not only learn where they’re going but also become inspired to buy something they weren’t thinking of thanks to technology-enabled wayfinding and shopping in-store.
How many of your customers need a little help deciding what they want to buy? How much more merchandise could you sell by displaying some suggestions? Strategically placing inspiring digital stories amongst your merchandise is another way to create sales as well as cultivating interest in other sales.
Technology is catching up with our imaginations. It is possible to conjure up almost any experience inside a store, thanks to a combination of display, communication and computing technology improvements. Prices are falling dramatically and consumer applications of these technologies drive scale that commercial applications can leverage. In other words, now is the time to start planning for technology to improve your store experience to help your customers and grow your sales.