Brands should hold consumers’ hands

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Stuart Evans, UK general manager of loyalty specialist ICLP, talks about the future of loyalty and the interaction demanded by consumers.

Not many would believe that ten years ago British Airways launched WAP phone check-in for WAP-enabled phones. Last week I downloaded the new BA app to my iPhone, and it does pretty much the same thing.

The difference a decade has made is less about the technology itself and more about the exponential increase in user adoption of these interactive tools. The iPhone and other devices have helped companies to make the user Interface so engaging, relevant, intuitive and tactile that for customers interacting with a brand can be ’fun’ and adds value to their overall user experience.

The effect of the iPhone on marketing is that globally millions of consumers today expect an interactive experience when they engage with a brand.

However many of these brand interaction points today are very shallow, therefore engaging for only a short period of time or at best just offering ongoing utility once the novelty factor has worn off.

Conversely following successful retailers such as Tesco, from its Clubcard programme, and to a lesser extent other data rich programmes like Nectar, means that customers now expect the brands that they interact with to know all about them, their preferences, needs and desires.

They expect their information sharing to be recompensed with valuable benefits including rewards, offers and information, all highly targeted around their own unique purchasing patterns.

The major retail loyalty programmes are getting very good at this however the Tesco Clubcard iPhone app is basically a digital plastic loyalty card displaying a scannable barcode to collect your points at the checkout.

More to the point it is completely separate to the Tesco’s Grocery shopping app, which enables users to shop online via their device.

Tesco has recently adding barcode scanning to the app so users can add items to their shopping basket, wherever they may be and although this helps convenience, it is an incredibly benign use of the combination of smartphone gadgetry and reams of customer data which adds little to the customer experience.

Currently the missing link between slick and interactive front end interfaces and deep, insightful back end customer insight is integrated business logic or rules which use the data to drive the differentiated real time customer experience.

In the future consumers might build their shopping lists based on their most popular purchases that happen to be on offer that day, or perhaps by adding the items from favourite or suggested recipes at the swipe of a finger.

Such a combination of interactivity and data will change the retail environment dramatically over the next couple of years.

Supermarkets need smartphone holders on trolley handles, replacing the current self scan holders, or better still docking stations that automatically connecting customer, app and store whilst charging the customers device as the trolley wheels roll round the supermarket.

Alternatively why carry all this on a phone – a simple loyalty programme card inserted into a self scan device should do the same thing or even use a pin code login without a card – the short term opportunities for convergence are endless.
The possibilities of deep data insight and real-time customer interactivity will change many aspects of retailing especially when moving out of commodity retail like supermarkets and into emotional environments like high fashion. Here data is still important as is a ’cool’ user interface but also peer interactivity or social influence will play an increasingly important role.

Like the trolley in supermarkets, for fashion retail mundane items like mirrors will become interactive, video enabled screens using currently available technology.
The user will be to scan a barcode, upload to an interactive touch screen ’mirror’ to see a 360 degree virtual image of you wearing that item matched to other things you own (no more waiting for changing rooms or bringing a favourite skirt into the shop!).

Users can then save and post this image out to your Facebook friends there and then. By the time you have felt the quality of the material investigated the stitching and read the washing instructions your friends will have returned their hopefully complimentary comments and reinforced your decision to purchase.

The impact of all this for retail marketing is a significant change in the customer relationship. They will want and expect more from their brand interactions, with the data they have shared being used to generate an enhanced customer experience.

This will include receiving recommendations and suggestions that add value in addition to the utility of carrying their virtual wardrobe or fridge with them into a retail environment.

Retailers must become the trusted advisor to customers, both supporting and influencing their purchase behaviour based on data rich intimacy and interactive participation. It is no longer a matter of ’push’ or even ’pull’ marketing with customers – tomorrow’s retail brands need to be butlers, chefs, style advisors and even ’friends’ to their customers, going shopping together hand in hand.

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