SixthSense technology enables the customer to gain access to a whole lot of product-related information, such as reviews and comparisons by merely scanning the bar code of the product. The entire information can be projected on any surface. This technology could also give stores the liberty to stock only one sample of each product and offer delivery the next day after the customer has selected the product and purchased it by scanning the barcode using his mobile.
Augmented reality. Augmented reality technology is becoming increasingly popular. It adds a visual layer of information on top of surfaces such as a mirror and the content interacts with layers of information provided by the real world. For example, by holding up a specially coded box or label to a webcam-equipped computer, the user can see an augmented, 3D image of the product, or a graphic display of other additional information.
Intel has developed a high-technology mirror that lets shoppers see how the chosen clothes would look on them. It is a digital trial room where the customer just needs to stand in front of an LCD monitor and parametric technology simulates his body type displaying how chosen garments would fit on him—based on weight, height and measurements.
Malls of the future could use digital signage that delivers targeted advertising and also captures key customer demographic information via video for analysis later, thus creating almost real-time customer feedback.
Major consumer product companies are also testing the business value of mobile mash-ups. Bionic Eye is an iPhone app wherein the user can point the camera at a mall to get a screen display of all the outlets inside the building. Virtual signposts with directions to nearby points of interest are also included. Interestingly, all this works offline.
Data mining and predictive analytics
‘Big Data’—a term much in vogue today—refers to deployment of huge amount of information to make businesses more efficient and responsive to clients and customers. Data are collected and mined in a number of sectors, including retail, telecom and finance. However, retail sector has the highest level of interaction with a huge volume of customers from different walks of life and hence retailers are very interested in closely understanding their customers.
You login to your favourite e-commerce site to buy a handset. You shortlist one and put it in your virtual shopping cart. However, as you read customer reviews further, you end up changing your mind. You then discover that every online store that you visit features an ad for that very handset. This happens as online retailers can give you a virtual identification number and track your journey from site to site, displaying purchase-targeted ads for products of your interest—this is also known as ‘ghost marketing.’
A firm has developed a computer program that enables a store’s security cameras to give the management different types of information about how consumers interacted inside the shopping area. It tells precisely the number of customers present inside the store at a time, areas of the store explored by them and specific products on which shoppers spent appreciable time. The software can integrate this information with other factors such as staffing levels, weather, product variety and placement to conclude what makes sales happen.
In the future, computer programs, with information from video cameras, will determine customers’ gender and interpret their facial expressions and other gestures to help retailers understand why someone did or did not buy a given product.
Technology as well as buying behaviour is evolving at breakneck speed and retailers who wait for others to drive touchpoint adoption will find themselves to be losers. Since in the post-recession era, there are no rapid-growth new markets, the growth itself will come at the expense of competition. Hence it is important that retail companies keep pace with technology developments and use them to the fullest to become more efficient and effective.
The author has been consulting in the telecom sector and is currently associate professor at School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University