As consumers, we're often guilty of holding retailers to ransom. We expect the same brand experience across every real world and digital touchpoint. We want information immediately, great experiences and the best possible service in the fastest, simplest and most convenient way for what we're doing at that time. We want five-star service for pennies, and we want it now.
A big reason is that we've changed how we shop. The days of simply popping out to the high street and traipsing all over the place for hours in search of that one perfect item are long gone. Nowadays, our search for a new coat will likely begin online, perhaps with an advert on social media. It will then move to browsing different brand sites on our mobile phone and at this point, whilst we're out and about, we may then decide to visit a store.
Equally, ensuring the journey from offline to online is one consistent experience is just as vital in our decision to make a purchase with a given brand. After all, over half of us still research in-store as part of the consumer journey according to xAd's 2016 UK Mobile Path to Purchase report.
Several brands are already jumping onto the technology to blur the physical and digital worlds. But which technologies will really help brands understand shopper behaviour and enhance our experience of buying from brands?
1. Self-driving shopping carts
Despite various short-lived efforts over the years, most retail shopping carts are impressively low-tech. In September however, Walmart made headlines when it announced that it had filed a patent for automated shopping carts that could house navigational systems that literally steer you toward the exact items on your list.
Sensors within the cart would be able to tell the supermarkets where shoppers stop, for how long, and how slowly or quickly the customer is moving to their next destination. Eventually the cart picks up a sense of the consumer's shopping habits - or at least what the most trafficked aisles are - and provides clues for supermarkets as to why they're frequented.
This technology could also let retailers understand the shopper's intent based on their location at certain points in their visit and enable them to serve real-time relevant promotions and deals based on the products in front of them.
2. Facial Recognition
Shopping carts won't be the only change in-store. London's high-end department chain Selfridges will begin experimenting with an Internet of Things (IoT) zone at its flagship Oxford Street store.
Electronic products distributor Bullboat intends to make the zone an "experience" for shoppers, teaching them the advantages of IoT products in the home. This means investment in tools like in-store facial recognition software that can anticipate a consumer's needs and educate them about their product.
This technology, coupled with location-smart mobile technologies, would show which displays were ineffective, and what product a consumer checked out immediately afterwards. Initially, this might start as a tablet display that a customer interacts with to ask questions and receive instant feedback.
3. Augmented Reality
When it comes to actually shopping and placing items within a shopping basket, boxed goods are both reassuring and frustrating. What if you wanted to buy a camping tent, but couldn't gauge the size by the dimensions on the box or wanted to paint your house but couldn't understand what the colour would look like on your own walls at home?
Augmented reality can help here - smartphones are now able to project the size and shape of all household items, so that consumers can get a first peek at what they're buying. One of the first retailers to really make a splash with this technology is IKEA. Its catalogue gives you the ability to place virtual furniture in your own home.
4. Location Intelligence
What happens when we enter or leave a store? Where do we travel to next and why? These are the biggest questions for brands looking to deliver the right messages at opportune moments to aid us in a purchase and improve our shopping experience. At the same time though, they need to avoid bombarding us with irrelevant communications that irritate the consumer and damage their reputation.
This challenge is what location intelligence has been built to solve. These tools give brands an understanding of current and historical aggregated visitation trends, by displaying foot traffic within specific locations, therefore more intelligence around overall patterns. And of course, giving brands the ability to deliver great experiences based on the context of the consumer.
For example; ASDA worked with xAd to target audiences within a certain proximity of their stores to raise awareness of their various Back to School offers. As a result of using a location-based strategy, ASDA saw a 67% lift in store visits and respondents exposed to the campaign were nearly 13% more likely to visit an ASDA store over other top UK grocers including Tesco and Sainsbury's.
Location intelligence can also gauge just how often we visit retailers, and reasons why we may stop. For instance, a coffee brand may see a downward trend in visitation to their own stores, whilst previously they may have only speculated why people stopped visiting them. Now brands can see whether there is an overall trend to a direct competitor as a result of a new promotion, or in fact an indirect competitor, say for example a pub chain. Location intelligence gives brands an insight into a deeper issue, one that could be too important for the brand to miss.
Ultimately, technology is improving the customer experience by joining the dots between online shopping and stores on the high street. For too long the real world has been a blindspot for retailers, but now location is bridging the gap between behaviours in the physical world and the digital world.