Tech is key to better retail experience

Retail marketers have been told to “rewrite the rule book” and look for ways to enhance online and offline retail offerings that provide consumers with the experience they will expect in the future.

Retail Retold Iris Worldwide

Retail marketers have been told to “rewrite the rule book” and look for ways to enhance online and offline retail offerings that provide consumers with the experience they will expect in the future.

Marketing Week picks out some of the key strategies that speakers at Iris Worldwide’s Retail Retold event in London last week advised retailers and brands to think about.

Build social experiences around retail

Social media will undoubtedly play a more significant role in retail in the future, but it is unlikely to be transactional. It will be in how brands can “add social layers onto the shopping experience”, according to Google’s retail industry manager Kerem Atasoy.

F-commerce has so far failed to take off because retailers have been trying to force transaction onto social, which does not fit into the etiquette that consumers have built around social media. Retailers should instead look to build social experiences around retail.

Atasoy cites Macy’s hosting ‘hang-outs’ with fashion stylists on Google+ together with Harrods inviting its Facebook fans to help make decisions on what lines buyers should select for the season as examples of retailers using social to shift power to consumers, as opposed to shoehorning transaction onto the social network.

“It’s an opportunity for retailers to get in front of consumers,” he said.

Adapt to the changing consumer environment

It can be difficult for bricks and mortar retailers to act as quickly as a digital business but there is a need for retailers to be “prepared to be in beta all the time” by continually testing innovation, according to John Grant, author and brand consultant.

Time Out Digital’s commercial director Paul Thompson agreed, adding that it thinks of itself as a “42-year-old start-up” because it has had to radically overhaul its business model to adapt to the changing environment and changing consumer behaviour.

Add value to products using digital

Retailers should use technology to enhance the ways consumers interact with their stores, rather than maintaining a strict divide between online and physical, said Arwa Mahdawi, consultant at Contagious, which counts Google, Diageo and Kraft among its clients.

“There has been an explosion in augmented retail, with retailers adding value to products, doing it through technology and bringing in the best parts of online interactivity into stores. It’s not enough to offer products any more, you have to offer experiences around them,” she added.

She cited Starhub, a Singapore music portal that partnered with retailers to use RFID technology to blend fashion and music to create a personalised experience in its fitting rooms.

Clothing was chipped with RFID tags that matched products with more than 10,000 songs. A different song was played in the changing room depending what items the customer was trying on. So a plaid shirt would trigger indie music, or baggy jeans hip-hop. It then sent SMS messages with the tracks and an opportunity to download it and share the song with friends.

This, she says, is a way of technology being used to bring “a bit of theatre” into store and offer a personalised experience.

Use technology to make retail more human

“Technology in retail is not about using tech for tech’s sake, it’s about finding ways to use technology to make retail more human,” Mahdawi continued.

Businesses now know more about customers on a micro and macro level than ever before but while this can help inform the future direction of retail, it’s important that retail marketers don’t lose sight of the people among the data. One thing that physical retailers should do better than digital is add the human touch.

Grant said: “There is a paradox at the heart of great retail – the contrast between being the most systems- and data-driven thing and at the same time it’s about putting human beings at the heart of the business. There will be a crystallisation of shopping as a form of tourism and so shops need to do something that online can’t do.”

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