6 trends that will shape the retail experience in 2015 (and beyond)

shopping with smart phoneIt all begins with smart phones. The real opportunity is to take advantage of the fact that consumers are ALWAYS connected through their smart phones. Consider this information from a recent Retail Touchpoints post:

More consumers are using their smartphones to research products and learn about sales from their favorite retailers, according to a report from NinthDecimal. Between Q2 2013 and Q2 2014, consumers’ use of smartphones for product research increased by 110%, replacing tablets as the most-used devices.

They are often times engaged with their smart phones while shopping. More from the same post:

While shopping in-store, 61% of consumers said they would prefer to receive mobile ads with discounts or sales information, but only 49% said they were actually being served these ads, reflecting an opportunity for retailers and advertisers to refine their in-store marketing strategies.

ibeaconlogoApps & Beacons – The growth of the use of smart phone apps and the related integration of Apple’s iBeacon technology is widely reported to be one of the most significant trends for 2015 and beyond. First, an explanation of beacons: A beacon is a small sensor that emits Bluetooth low-energy signals to communicate with smartphones whose users have installed a specific app. When an app user walks by a beacon, it triggers the app. At this time beacons work on all Apple smart devices (running iOS 7.1 or higher – now at 85%); While only a small of Android devices are currently taking advantage of beacon technology we expect that to change in the next 6-8 months.

The key is to keep in mind is that beacons require an app designed to incorporate and utilize the beacon technology. Knowing this we have built this capability into all of our epunched customer loyalty apps. Currently we are recommending that retailers use this technology on a limited amount of applications, such as confirming a ‘check in’ (a validation of a purchase for loyalty purposes) at the register.

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Beacons can be configured for three ranges – immediate (2”-12”), near (up to 8’) and far (as far away as 200’ – based on conditions). A benefit of using this technology is the fact that it can work indoors (as well as outdoors) where GPS is not a possibility.

Piggybacking on Apple Pay we feel as though it will become as common for consumers to reach for their smart phones at the register as their wallets. So it is not much of a stretch to think that users will take advantage of loyalty programs in much the same way – it will be done in simple proximity at check out.

We are also recommending that retailers become fluent with the usage in order to educate consumers. I would suggest that retailers consider a dedicated display using the technology to spark consumer adoption. These smart signs will revolutionize the retail landscape. This will require education for both business owners, management and consumers alike. Users need to be advised that they need to have bluetooth enabled and that the app needs to be open in order to engage beacons. This can be accomplished with visual prompts such as POP signage.

Retailers should also focus on promoting these engaging new tools for consumers. It is certainly a point of differentiation with your competition. Consider that even the smallest retailer (with our app development tools) can now utilize the same technology as a retailer of the scale of Macy’s, Major League Baseball, or American Eagle. This represents a unique window of time where you have a decided advantage over competitors.

For Sunrise Marketing we view this technology, and these trends, as just another opportunity to create truly loyal customers. A company with it’s own dedicated app, typically a free download for Apple and Android devices, can now be featured on Google Play and Apple’s iTunes store – but it is important to stake your claim early. The battle between you and other marketing opportunities for consumer’s attention is going to be who’s the first to own the faceplate on a user’s smart phone or tablet. In order to keep it on that phone it will need to deliver a compelling reason for consumers to use it – namely, rewards and discounts for customer loyalty programs.

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Interactive – What used to be considered a “flying car” type of consumer experience is now a reality. While not stretching to the degree of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, a consumer could be greeted while passing by a business, be directed towards a product they are looking for, and receive instant incentives – “Open your app to receive 10% off this product. Hurry, good only for today until 5 pm!”

Integration – Those experiences could then be shared on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram. The key is to integrate this technology in the totality of your marketing mix.

The key is to understand that the smart phone represents a singular point of connection – more than TV, radio, e-mail marketing, newsprint or other dated methods of pushing advertising messages. It is a fact that people use mobile devices more than desktops, that they respond faster to push notifications than emails and that they use their apps more than any other aspect of the smart phone experience.

Proximity – The holy grail is placing a marketing message in front of the customer at the point of the buying decision. Using Apple’s iBeacon technology we can now turn ordinary signs and displays into interactive kiosks that can dispense information and instant coupons. The Kansas City Business Journal recently reported on retail giant Macy’s expansion of it’s use of beacon technology:

Macy’s has created the “biggest splash,” announcing that it will roll out beacon technology in its 4,000 stores nationwide, said Mark Logan, senior vice president of innovation at Kansas City-based Barkley advertising agency.

“The intent is to provide consumers with context-sensitive offers as they walk into the store and at various departments,” Logan said. “So, if you have the app installed on your phone, it will recognize when you walk into a Macy’s and will be able to give you offers and information that’s relevant to specific locations in the store.”

Instant Incentives – Imagine the ability to turn displays on or off, or change the message or incentive with your smart phone. We have that capability now and we are using it to transform the retail landscape. Consider the possibilities of measuring the effectiveness of an offer when you can program an incentive (good for that day only) that can be tracked back to the user. You can then review data showing the connection between when that coupon was issued and the corresponding redemption at the register. The possibilities are remarkable.

using-innovation-to-drive-restaurant-transformation-xerox-fstec-presentaton-6-638Measurable Results – You could then start to measure the effectiveness of your signs. Because every interaction between a users smart phone (iPhones in the case of beacon interaction) and a beacon creates a digital time stamp you can also glean important information about traffic patterns in your retail environment or nursery yard.

There is no time like the present to become familiar with these important trends in retailing. There is going to be a learning curve for retailers and consumers alike, but just like most technology tools consumers often lead the way. Just as a phone number, website and email address are considered an essential part of being in business these days it will be a baseline expectation to have a dedicated app leading to more engaging customer experience.