It’s a bit of a truism in retail that the balance of power has shifted, once and for all, away from sellers and toward well informed, mobile, socially-connected consumers. Visits to stores are in decline; evidence shows that consumers are researching their purchase options online before visiting the store in what is described, variously, as ‘targeted’ or ‘precision’ shopping. Even then, price competition from the internet means that store visits have to be successful, in terms of stock availability, and offer something special in the way of added value.
Of course, the once clear divide between traditional retail and e-commerce is now blurred as retailers move towards an omnichannel strategy, adopting technologies that support the consumer in their preferred shopping mode. Retailers are much more sophisticated in the ways that they predict demand, manage and move stock, and integrate their physical, virtual and mobile selling channels.
For the retailer, the practice of ‘showrooming’, where consumers go into a store to browse, or try on, then buy the items at a lower price online, continues to be an issue for bricks and mortar retailers. But retailers taking steps towards integrating their omnichannel strategies are now fighting back with techniques including real-time price matching and equipping in-store employees with mobile technologies.
Retailers deploying digital and interactive displays also have the option of using new technology to collect and enhance customer data. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal concluded that “Analytics bring science to the art of retail”. Retailers have managed some of the biggest data warehouses in the world and use big data to optimise operations, refine pricing, anticipate demand, and provide the product assortments customers want. Demographics captured in-store adds further depth to the analysis – and, vitally, provides data about store visitors who don’t go on to purchase.
Christian Jeske, Marketing Director of Pyramid Computer GmbH, has seen the digital infrastructure of retail advancing in recent years to provide retailers with the data needed to provide store visitors with the ‘targeted’ or precision experience they seek:
“By linking e-commerce with in-store they can enlarge shop floor space virtually, leverage existing investment and execute a true omnichannel strategy. This not only creates a new shopping dimension for customers but also helps retailers gather vital statistics about customer shopping habits – the who, what, when, where, why, and how of retailing.”
“They can capture live sales performance metrics to help spot trends, improve product choice and stock control, ensuring that the items their customers require are always immediately available. They can also react faster to implement special offers and targeted campaigns according to size, preferences, shopping history, and spending history. Real-time campaigns also have a huge impact on the way retailers communicate with customers and increase buying potential of specific products.”
“Facial detection systems have been in use for security for quite some time now, where the contours of a person’s face are scanned to detect a particular individual. This can search a database of known criminals and alert the authorities within seconds. This is fine for airport security for example, but it is not what NEC’s FieldAnalyst is all about as there would be many privacy issues. Personal data is not required for FieldAnalyst. “
“Field Analyst is an anonymous audience analytic tool, not a facial detection tool. It sees a human face, and estimates the gender, age group, dwell time, distance etc. The process is performed in the RAM of the PC only where it stores the data in a log file. This information is highly valuable in retail for instance as it can help keep a log of the type of demographics entering a store and analyse customer behaviour. It can then go a step further with NEC’s leafengine software which allows FieldAnalyst to become a sensor and send a trigger through leafengine to a CMS system to change content.”
“This targets the message to that particular demographic, which is more relevant at that time to that gender / age group. Using sensors is not new, and historically was always done in a proprietary fashion. Now with NEC’s leafengine, it creates an extra layer between sensors and software / content, which does the difficult translation from the sensors into a more simple language, which can then be used to trigger something to happen.”
Baht explains that automatic monitoring and measurement has advantages over other forms of data collection, and can enhance existing data resources: “It’s real-time and autonomous. Leafengine works in the background to communicate between sensors and content. It doesn’t require a human to actively do anything over and above their normal action, which could be for example: picking up an item off the shelf; walking towards a product / sign; or looking at a display. These normal actions can autonomously send a leafengine trigger to target a message or perform an action at that time. As the whole process is done anonymously the information cannot be combined with actual customers, hence it is an additional layer of information.”
The leafengine application itself is being pushed to anyone who can do something with it. On its own, it will connect to a hardware sensor (for example, a rain sensor), and it will translate the complicated sensor data into simple language triggers. “After this point, something needs to happen with that trigger,” adds Baht. “We are working to increase awareness with our CMS partners, of which we have over a dozen who have worked with leafengine already. We are also working to increase awareness of leafengine to our reseller / integrator partners, who can help us spread the word regarding the benefits it can have for a) the content / software partner and b) the end user.”
NEC has done the hard work of learning how sensors work, so resellers and systems integrators don’t have to. NEC has created a “plug-in” for the sensor. Baht says: “All the integration / CMS partner has to do is use that plug-in and do something with the HTTP triggers that come out of it. They do not need to spend time learning how the sensor works and getting their application to work with it. The beauty is that once they have their application working with leafengine once, it opens up their application to all the other sensors that NEC certifies with no additional work on their part.”
Does this mean that leafengine applications can be configured without special skills? Baht says: “A basic / working knowledge of HTTP is needed. All CMS partners are more than equipped for working with leafengine, as their software engineers are used to dealing with more complicated software. Integrators used to programming control systems etc, will find it easy to work with leafengine.”
“There is more than enough knowledge in the market place for successful leafengine integration into all applications / verticals (not just retail). Even at end user level, if they have a web development team who understand how Hyper Text Transfer Protocol works and can read / write in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language) they can use and do something with leafengine.”
“We have many CMS partners who have their application “leafengine ready”. These partners participated at the NEC Showcase, where they demonstrated their leafengine integration. Partners include: Scala, Future Software, InstoreMedia, OneLan, SmartSign, Netpratice, Intevi, Crestron, AMX, Sedao, Pixel Inspiration and many more. We also work with other control partners, content creation partners, who can speak to external sensors through leafengine”
So is it possible to measure the advantages of a retailer deploying leafengine technology? Baht believes it is: “Think of a display operating with no sensors – it’s relying on its timed or scheduled playlist to cycle through content and messages. The ROI is not great and not measurable. By adding sight, sound, light and touch to the display, through sensors, the display can now sense its surroundings. It can actively pick what to display or what to do based on what is happening in its environment. For example: “Is it raining outside? Let’s promote umbrellas and wellies”. Or: “There is a male in front of me, let’s promote aftershave”.
With Signage more targeted, it is helping get the right message to the right audience at the right time. The ROI of a signage deployment is easier and quicker to reach with leafengine. There can be recognisable results with sensors being part of a system. As there is only a one off cost for leafengine licenses, there are minimal direct costs associated with a leafengine investment. There are no indirect costs or ongoing costs.
Even if a customer is delighted when they leave a store, the bar of expectation higher for their next visit. This is why many Chief Marketing Officers have begun thinking in terms of the customer experience, or CX, which includes a range of technologies and cloud solutions —including marketing and loyalty apps blended into a well crafted CRM strategy.
Integration is everything. Multichannel retail must be seamless—for both retailers and customers—and that requires a level of systems and data integration that goes well beyond what most companies have in place. There are various reasons for that: Online operations were originally established as a separate sales channel and retailers have accumulated a mishmash of dedicated technologies for the Web, merchandise and supply chain management and so on. Mobile devices, social media and Big Data have created entirely new data streams.
Success hinges on having the right product at the right time and place and at the best possible price. While there’s nothing new about this, but there’s a lot new about how it’s done. Integration of all the available data sources improves performance, and improves the retailer’s return on investment.
Information from interactivity
Comment from Christian Jeske, Marketing Director, Pyramid Computer GmbH.
“To be successful in the future, one of the critical success factors for retail businesses is driving consumer demand. Consumers decide exactly how, where and when they want to do their shopping, use all available shopping channels to browse product pricing and features, and make their final purchasing decisions. It all comes down to the right time, right place (sales channel), right product or solution and the right product promotion to draw them into a purchase.
Retailers are striving to respond better to this new shopping behaviour through real-time retailing techniques that enable them to detect, understand, communicate and serve consumers at every point in the purchase lifecycle. For example, through special pricing, tailored promotions, interactive self-service capabilities, and omni-channel options.
Using customised self-service kiosks such as polytouch, and e-commerce software such as Nephele for polytouch, retailers of any size have the potential to increase turnover by 20-40 per cent. By linking e-commerce with in-store they can enlarge shop floor space virtually, leverage existing investment and execute a true omnichannel strategy. This not only creates a new shopping dimension for customers but also helps retailers gather vital statistics about customer shopping habits – the who, what, when, where, why, and how of retailing.
They can capture live sales performance metrics to help spot trends, improve product choice and stock control, ensuring that the items their customers require are always immediately available. They can also react faster to implement special offers and targeted campaigns according to size, preferences, shopping history, and spending history. Real-time campaigns also have a huge impact on the way retailers communicate with customers and increase buying potential of specific products. For example, a special offer on umbrellas on a hot day with unexpected heavy rain.
Customer loyalty schemes, cross-selling, regional campaigns, targeted advertising and social media integration can also be introduced to accelerate business and achieve measurable growth. Retailers should never underestimate the social media potential of user generated content. When a customer ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ retailer content or product pictures with their friend network this helps spread the word and drives additional traffic.
As all in-store sessions can be monitored and analysed it is easy to track the success of the technology for ROI justification. Nephele for polytouch software visualises all products on an in-store polytouch kiosk for intelligent user interactivity and highly convenient shopping and check-out processes.