Manufacturing marketer Natalie Cummins focuses on the blending of online and physical retail spaces and on how retailers can adopt a pragmatic approach to digital innovation
Technology is increasingly enriching customers’ instore experience, particularly in the last few years with large brands from H&M through to Waitrose and Tesco trialling new technologies to attract visitors to the High Street through interactive experiences.
Yet Natalie Cummins, head of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) Republic for French ad and PR agency ZenithOptimedia points out that the retailers looking to adopt these new technologies need to ensure they truly deliver and improve the bottom line. "Retailers stand little to gain from introducing new technology for the sake of it, instead these companies need to look to adapt to changing customer needs to ensure digital solutions also achieve results," said Cummins.
Touchscreens and iPads
Many retailers are finding innovative ways to balance the need for novel digital experiences, while considering the purpose these serve in the long term. "Tesco is often one of the first to innovate and its first foray into digital came with its interactive high-definition (HD) touchscreens installed at 200 stores last year," Cummins continued.
"This was with the view of allowing the supermarkets to showcase a much greater product range than the physical space allows, reducing the need for a large and often expensive retail space. In a test and learn approach, Tesco has this month announced it will be replacing these with smaller touch screens that will also be able to showcase a greater range of online content. Despite being a large retailer, Tesco is taking a nimble approach to digital, adapting existing technologies where needed to meet customer needs."
Retailers are now bringing the instore and out-of-store experience closer together in new ways. A recent example is Karl Lagerfeld’s introduction of iPads instore to allow users to share outfits with friends via social media to gauge their opinion.
"Technology such as this builds on existing customer behaviours and needs. When choosing an outfit, previously a customer might bring a friend along, but now these habits are shifting online. The role of social media in-store is also brought to life with H&M’s New York store that features a Social Media Lounge with free Wi-Fi, H&M branded iPads loaded with content; music with headphones; and a photo booth allowing customer to take photos of their purchases and share immediately across their social media networks. These brands prove that building on the social experience of shopping can be a real asset to enticing customers to visit the store and then share this experience online," she added.
Capturing the customer's imagination
Looking at Tesco again, Cummins added that the brand is now taking the showrooming concept and adapting it to new technology that will be entering the market in the near future. The brand is currently exploring the potential of Oculus Rift and the possibilities to create a virtual store experience.
"The idea is to have an empty store, catering for those customers that do not have time to visit a physical store," she added. "This cinematic experience could also start to offer a 360-degree experience with gamification to offer additional branded interactions for customers. Although in the preliminary stages, Tesco needs to establish if the technology is capable of building an environment that increases purchasing.
"Ultimately, the goal of digital adoption is to build loyalty and enhance the store experience to encourage repeat business and make spending money easy. Waitrose is a great example of a retailer that is exploring the potential of digital technologies instore to discover what captures consumers’ imaginations. In its new Swindon store the retailer is trialling apps such as QuickCheck handset that enables customers to scan items and check information, as well as automatically cross it off their shopping list.
Improving store customer journey
"This enables the retailer to improve the customer’s journey around the store, providing the information they need at their fingertips. It’s highly unlikely that all the technologies the brand has introduced will last, but Waitrose shows that a test and learn approach to technology can help a brand to establish how to improve the customers shopping experience."
Technological innovation within the bricks-and-mortar space is undoubtedly costly, especially for those retailers with a prolific number of stores or those such as Waitrose that are rolling out large volumes of connected devices.
Cummins concluded: "Therefore, the sector needs to adopt a pragmatic approach to digital innovation, testing and adapting where needed. With the right approach, retailers can ensure that technology instore genuinely delivers against each customer’s needs and adds more than just novelty to the shopping experience."