Opinion: Boosting intelligence

What can retailers do to keep customers interested and in turn what do they gain by harnessing data concerning the footfall and habits of their customers? Intelligent shopping is here, says Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of Purple.

The way we shop and the way we use technology while we shop, has changed the retail environment forever. Credit cards used to be flashed about on shopping trips but now it’s mobile devices. We all use them; smartphones and tablets have become essential retail companions.

As customers and retailers get more sophisticated, embracing mobile technology can benefit both. It certainly can’t be ignored. Online stores have tracked their customer’s journey for years on their websites and in turn they have been given invaluable knowledge.

Bricks and mortar stores, on the other hand, have traditionally experienced a huge gap in customer intelligence. With 90 per cent of retail sales still taking place in store, it’s important that they fill this knowledge gap using technology designed to improve customer experience and loyalty.

Frequently using a mobile device is no longer a premise of the young. A report last year showed that two thirds of UK adults checked social media daily. And that’s not just students looking for memes at 4am, it’s millions of people using it as an essential communication and information tool.

A recent State of Bricks and Mortar survey, which looks at the worldwide retail sector, backs this up. It showed that 55 per cent of people surveyed said they looked at a mobile device whilst shopping. In China it’s 92 per cent of the population. 83 per cent of Americans use them to compare prices, 78 per cent search for store discounts and 67 per cent of younger shoppers want redeemable offers straight to their phone.

Businesses need to acknowledge and utilise this information. Using a WiFi and analytics platform is an excellent way for retail stores to offer something their customers want – Free WiFi – while also collecting useful data. Synchronising this information with existing records in CRM and email databases, they can refine customer touchpoints in the same way that online retailers have been able to do for many years.
Add location data to the mix, and in-store brands can gain an even deeper understanding of the behaviour of their real-world shoppers, in particular how they move around a store and interact with signage and promotions. This can inform decision making around the layout and design of stores, help them to maximize dwell-times in key areas, and provide insight into how and when to communicate with shoppers with marketing messages.

Many shoppers hate waiting; waiting in line or waiting whilst a shop assistant checks stock. The same Bricks and Mortar survey revealed that 60 per cent of consumers disliked queuing and 47 per cent became annoyed when an item was out of stock.

Free wifi combined with smart retailing could make these two issues insignificant. Give staff the ability to check stock on the sales floor and you eliminate annoying the customer with a 10 minute wait, followed by disappointing news. Instantly offer them a different item, that you can see is available in their size, and bingo you’ve made a sale.

Cutting down time waiting in line is already being addressed by a number of high street brands. Sainsbury’s recently trialled an app which allowed customers to scan items through their mobile phones, rather than use traditional forms of payment.

Clothing chain Ted Baker too is currently offering a slick new payment system available as an app on employees’ in-store tablets. It enables customers to order and pay for products that are currently unavailable in store, or only available online. Great news for customers and great news for the retailer. A sale, is a sale, no matter how it’s achieved.
The good news is that 60 per cent of people are comfortable having their shopping interests and behaviours used by online retailers if it will improve their shopping experience. With time pressure rising and attention span declining among consumers, physical venues are expected to deliver a comparably personalised and seamless experience.
Location data makes it possible, for instance, to reach out to customers with SMS messaging, at exactly the right time, with targeted information or a promotion.

This is shopping at its most sophisticated and it’s essential that retailers see the potential. These timely, relevant and valuable interactions build customer loyalty and help retailers stand out from the competition. It’s time all stores take notice, and shopping centres too.

With retail figures distinctly gloomy and showing a 0.8% fall in September coupled with a price rise of 3.3 per cent, customers will need as much persuasion as the retailers can muster to get them into shops. And get them to spend whilst they are there. Smart retailing coupled with the latest tech advances offers a win-win situation for everyone involved.


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