Retailers can better connect with shoppers by using technology to create a more personalised experience. Gareth James, Prosper’s Business Manager looks at the key methods gaining ground and highlights some of the best examples of retail tech…
Personalisation is a key strategy that is rapidly developing across the retail sector in varied forms, to enhance product offerings, shop fit outs, marketing and customer service.
Personalised shopping experiences show consumers that retailers are paying attention and understand what they want and need at the right time too, so they feel valued. In today’s society filled with choice, personalisation also adds relevance and focus.
This growth in personalisation has been facilitated by advances in technology but also the collection and use of big data. Retailers can better track customers’ omni-channel activity then harness that data to better understand their preferences and tailor offerings accordingly.
So we’ve rounded up some leading methods and examples of retail-tech that are enabling a more personal shopping experience.
Smart mirrors and virtual changing rooms
In clothing retail, the changing room is where a customer sees what fits them individually so is a natural place for personalisation via interactive smart mirrors.
Pepe Jeans new flagship on London’s Regent Street London has changing rooms that use RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to automatically detect what a customer brings in. Smart screens inside allow customers to request different sizes and colours plus suggestions for similar styles or complementary items.
Virtual changing rooms have also been trialled by retailers such as Topshop and Superdry, to try items without the hassle of changing. This helps retailers connect in-store behaviour with a customer’s digital profile and learn preferences to personalise future recommendations.
Now powerful mini computers – smartphones – are in many shoppers pockets, they provide more opportunities to track behaviour and influence it. Beacon technology and NFC (Near Field Communication) is one way to personalise the in-store experience.
Retailers including House of Fraser, Asda and Ted Baker have trialled beacons that send push notifications and offers directly to shoppers’ smartphones when browsing in store.
There are still various barriers to overcome though before there’s widespread adoption – such as having the app installed, bluetooth and location services enabled and accepting requests to receive notifications.
Beacon tech has also been used to develop personalised billboards. Aided by an app that compiles social media and demographic data, these billboards display the shopper’s social media profile, while listing relevant products and offers.
Shoppers that spend more than 10 seconds next to the display are sent a time sensitive
offer to their smartphone. This technology, which also scan what an individual is wearing to offer similar brands, has been trialled by the likes of Debenhams and New Look.
If these uses of beacon tech go mainstream, they could quickly become a nuisance, so offering relevant and useful content the customer values will be key to future success.
Now usage of ‘private’ messaging apps has surpassed ‘public’ social media, the likes of WhatsApp, Messenger and Kik have become part of a consumer’s digital journey. So brands are offering convenient, personalised assistance in this conversational online space by using chatbots.
Built into a retailer’s website or app, or via open platform messaging apps, these programmed robots interact with customers and simulate human conversation through artificial intelligence (AI). As well as quickly responding to commonplace queries when staff may not be available, chatbots can provide decision support and enhance customer service.
A great example is H&M’s Kik chatbot which acts as a personal stylist. Shoppers are shown different outfits and asked to choose their favourites. The bot then figures out their preferences to suggest outfits which can be shopped, shared or saved.
Voice recognition tech
This tech is still in its infancy but people are getting more comfortable with talking into devices, so retailers are paying attention to this new voice-controlled frontier, where you say what you want to a Google Home or Amazon Echo device.
Right now, the biggest benefit is convenience for ordering regular, repeat purchases so food and drink brands have been natural first adopters. Domino’s Pizza has its own virtual ordering assistant named Dom, while Starbucks has introduced My Starbuck Barista.
Powered by bots that learn your preferences, it’s easy to see how personalisation will develop along with voice activated tech. It could be a complete game changer if widely adopted but won’t be right for every context.
Facial recognition and CCTV
Scanning images of people is another tool being explored for personalisation… to identify customer demographics to serve more relevant ads or recognise an important customer that requires attention.
Tesco uses CCTV in its petrol stations to determine shopper demographics and market relevant on-screen ads. Elsewhere, car brand Bentley uses facial recognition technology in its innovative London Westfield store to help create a bespoke Bentley.
Potential buyers are shown lifestyle films and images while a camera scans their expressions to judge emotional reactions. Software then builds a picture of likes and dislikes to create a car that Bentley thinks will suit the customer’s personality.
Tech equipping staff to better serve customers in-store
It’s not all about automation and bots – tech tools are empowering the human element of retail too. After all, interaction with real people is one of the benefits of physical retail, but to keep their job, many retail workers need to up their game.
That’s why Monsoon Accessorize is transforming its staff into helpful personal assistants, by arming them with iPads. By having access to live stock information, plus customer data with insights on buying habits and preferences, in-store assistants can better recommend alternative or complementary items. Monsoon Accessorize says this has increased average order values by 133%.
These last two examples show how a fine line must be tread in the quest for personalisation. The aim is to enhance the best parts of the retail experience without allowing things to become too automated, dehumanised or invasive.
Technology is a great tool for capturing data and building intelligence, but can it ever deliver the same service, value and empathy as a real person? Human behaviour is complex and not always formulaic – people have strong routines but can also be unpredictable and impulsive.
What’s more, the arrival of the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018 will impact developments. Consumers are going to become more mindful of how their data is used. For customers to feel comfortable providing more information about themselves, retailers must offer them more valuable reasons to do so.
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