A shopper’s paradise?

I recently read an article on Brand Republic about how digital is transforming the way we shop. In it Tim Watson, strategy director at Ogilvy Action, and Richard Matthews, head of customer insight at Logica, argued that “modern retailers need to get to grips with data to respond to the current and future needs of their customers“. The article presented a comprehensive insight into the “age of digital” and the rise of the socially-connected, price-savy shopper. However, I believe that the article had one fundamental flaw – that it aligned these improvements in technology and data-insight with a heavenly shopping experience.

I instead would argue that the convergence of price-checking, review-monitoring and promotion-seeking all add to a slightly alienating shopping experience. Armed with my smartphone, I can rarely justify a shopping splurge (despite being broke, there also is that knowledge that I could have bought it cheaper), while the impulsive purchase pre-tills has surrendered to buying online. In other words, access to a wealth of knowledge about a product makes me less inclined to buy – spoilt with choice, and momentarily suspended by a toxic customer review, my shopping behaviour has shifted to window-shopping, and residing in the comfort of my desk-chair, happily clicking my way through Amazon or Ebay. This has contributed to me adding a doubtful question mark next to the title of this otherwise informative article.

Watson and Matthews start by imagining the future of the retail industry – a scenario not too different to today, and thankfully a galaxy away from Futurama. A future world populated by –

1) Smart shopping with… smartphones. Mobile devices will “be utilised to find products, use reviews and ratings, encourage intelligent personalisation of services that help us make shopping decisions and receive the best offers and promotions based on previous behaviour, geolocation and loyalty.” This essentially equates to shoppers making informed purchases and not being phased or swerved by traditional marketing tactics. Retailers will therefore have to offer mobile-optimised websites, as well as Facebook “communities” and consumer-friendly apps like a bar-scanning utility. The prospect of mobile wallets also looks to be interesting as the battle for wallet ownership and customer relationship management gets heated between traditional financial providers, telecoms providers, Google and high tech intermediaries for brands.

2) A mass of data on shopping habits meaning, in theory, that retailers can use that information to make the experience more personal – offering customised offers and customer service while shopping. This includes more relevant personalised communications – like promotions sent to the customer’s mobile based on their previous purchase and social behaviour and triggered by the time and geolocation. As such, the future of the pesky text promotion looks likely to continue.

3) Augmented reality apps. This elusive and exciting concept promises to become a reality – leaving you able to check out that sofa in your sitting room, or picture your bedroom walls in pink. Similarly, shoppers will be able to try on an outfit in store, post a photo on Facebook and make their buying decision based on how many of their friends like it… or not. Image recognition using augmented reality machines also have the potential to identify clothes – effectively revolutionising the fashion industry and make fast fashion even faster.

4) Real time multi-screen interactive experiences. I’ve discussed it before, I will mention it now – “brands will engage with customers using mobile, tablet, in-store and social channels using the unique interactive properties of each medium to give exceptional customer experiences”.

5) A growing number of “customer intelligent” organisations that use real time data and insights in order to respond to the current and future needs of their customers. In essence, this is the main focus of the article, but it worries me slightly that this trend is a guarantee of the future, rather than part of today’s mainstream retail practices. Watson and Matthews argue that organisations that thoroughly understand their consumer – the who and where they are, what they do and when and why they do it, will prosper. This is also when the pair go all private-eye as ensuring this level of insight does not come easy. As they describe it –

“It’s about monitoring conversations and understanding opinions, creating engaging and intuitive shopper journeys, creating multiple touch points, understanding the ever-increasing importance of the smartphone to the mobile consumer and stimulating and measuring both “word of mouth” and “word of mouse”.”

Then, on top of this, article underlines the significance of applying this knowledge – not just simply delivering customer intelligence, but also creating multi-channel experiences and engaging and useful content. Beware the brand who doesn’t…

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