Just glance at your latest news feed and you’ll see that the retail industry is bifurcating into a world of haves and have-nots. Store closings and consolidations stand in stark contrast to e-commerce retailers opening up a fleet of brick-and-mortar stores. One of the clear advantages the latter has is the ability to employ customer data and context to remove friction and command additional revenues from the shopping experience. Those brands that thrive will do so by building a platform that enables them to track customers’ in-store activity and personalize experiences in real time.
Driving Sales With Context
Retailers have long been challenged by how to incorporate more context into in-store experiences. To succeed, they need the ability to track in-store customer activity and marry this with out-of-store data in real time to customize interactions. This is made possible by the in-store Wi-Fi network. Retailers have long used a mix of technologies to monitor customer behavior, from traffic counting systems, Wi-Fi presence tracking, beacons, RFID, cameras and video. However, they need to be able to easily bring the data from these systems together. Retailers also need to get past the idea that an in-store Wi-Fi network will automatically be abused by customers and employees. The benefits of information gathered throughout the network greatly outweigh such concerns, which can be addressed with proper security and practices. This means ensuring you have established strong primary technology selection criteria, including addressing long-term needs for cross-platform data aggregation and analysis.
Let me give you an example: Many retailers are investing in beacons as a way to increase location awareness — e.g., when a shopper approaches a physical beacon attached to an endcap, they get a targeted mobile alert or text promotion. The challenge is not to treat this as a point solution. Many physical beacon solutions are not only difficult to maintain and support (just think of managing battery replacement for tens of thousands of units), but they also operate as separate or overlay technologies that each require their own configuration and management.
Instead of the point solution approach, retailers need to build on an existing platform, such as their in-store Wi-Fi network, to achieve the same results. With advancements in Wi-Fi access point technology, retailers can now capitalize on this infrastructure to achieve sub one-meter location accuracy for tracking customer behavior. Access points with integrated BLE technology let retailers create virtual beacons, using software to geo-fence areas of engagement. Much like an e-commerce site, retailers can now dynamically change the app experience (e.g., highlight product or send promotions) to consumers when they enter a specific zone, even one just outside the store. Delivering these types of contextualized customer experiences will be a requirement, not a luxury for successful retailers.
The same concept holds true of other in-store technologies such as digital signage. Much like the targeted online videos that show up on e-commerce sites, signage needs to be intelligent enough to understand who is in front of it. Leveraging that same Wi-Fi location platform, retailers can sense and identify nearby shoppers who have opted in to receive targeted messages. The technology exists today to enable consumers to engage and interact with signage, pushing and pulling information to and from screens, scanning products, and displaying them as part of interactive demonstrations.
Advancements in technology will enable retailers to foster more interactions and transactions to deliver unprecedented levels of context (location, presence, proximity). We're going to see new customer experiences designed to encourage personalized, frictionless shopper engagement. Retailers will tap into the technology, data and customer mind-set to maximize the shopping experience and thrive in the new online/offline world.
Ed Jimenez is the senior director of global consumer industries and digital transformation group at Cisco.