Silvia Jodlowski, Analyst in Cushman & Wakefield’s European Research & Insight team looks at how retailers are driving revenues through the use of technology to create exceptional and personalised experiences for their customers.
It is well documented that physical retail around the world is facing challenges, which is reflected in softer rents in many high street locations, as well as a slowdown in shopping centre development.
Until recently, retailers competed largely on quality, price and product availability, but new technology, combined with a personalised touch and a high-quality experience, now plays an essential part in retail success. In fact, while technology may be the primary cause of the current market turbulence, it is also allowing retailers to fight back.
Technology and innovation are contributing to the efficiency of the whole product journey; starting with production, ending with the sale of the product to the customer and the provision of after sales support.
Manufacturers are using new innovative and sustainable technologies. New improved materials, 3D and additive printing and the Internet of Things are being integrated to make the manufacturing process and the entire supply chain faster, more efficient and cost effective.
In the retail sector, the use of technology within the bricks-and-mortar space and the fusion of physical space and online will help innovative brands to differentiate themselves from the rest.
Bridging online and physical space is a key focus for many retailers. Selling products online in-store helps retailers to boost their sales, while providing customers with convenience and a more personalised experience. It is increasingly common for stores to be equipped with tablets and automated shopping assistants, which allow staff to access information about the product, its availability and a customer’s purchase history. Importantly, customers do not have to queue and benefit from improved service. One good example of this is the way in which Adidas invites customers to miadidas studios, where they can design their own clothing and footwear. Once the miadidas order is completed, the customer can expect it to be delivered to their home within 3-5 weeks.
Technology can empower the operations team in terms of understanding customer data, trends and managing stock and staff. One such system is ‘Dor’, a thermal sensing footfall monitoring system which allows retailers to analyse trends within their stores. As a result, the retailer can manage stock more effectively, ensure appropriate staffing levels and devise more effective marketing campaigns.
The speed of advertising delivery, campaign relevance and reach of campaign are the main areas where technology can impact on the marketing and advertising process. Geolocation marketing can help retailers to target the right audience at the right time in the right place. While it is now an established technology, retailers are now looking to enhance this through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which will help them to predict a customer’s location – taking personalisation to a different level.
Gucci introduced its Gucci Hallucination campaign in spring 2018, which employed Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology to enhance the shopping experience. At selected Gucci stores, customers could also receive tickets with access to VR devices containing Monreal’s campaign artwork.
Arguably, the most sought-after customer experience is that which combines technology with a high degree of personalisation. Most leading retailers are increasingly focused on personalisation and there are numerous innovative examples around the world.
- The Nike Live store in Melrose, Los Angeles is an example of a physical store driven by online shoppers. The merchandise is entirely determined by Nike digital data (buying patterns, app usage) generated by the surrounding area’s Nike Plus app users.
- Swarowski and Mastercard partnered with YouVisit and launched a VR shopping experience app for the Swarowski Home Decor collection 2017. The app immerses shoppers in a decorated home where they can browse and purchase products with Masterpass, Mastercard’s digital payment service.
- Retailers and landlords are constantly looking for new ways to engage with their customers anywhere and anytime. The Mall of America introduced a new AI solution – chatbot which helps its retailers to communicate the right information, at the right place, in real-time to their customers via the website, mobile app, Facebook page or the Amazon Alexa.
- A growing number of retailers are trying to boost their mobile commerce platforms. Tommy Hilfiger has launched its first European shopping app TommyNow snap, which allows consumers to shop directly from the US fashion brand’s Instagram feed. Other features include in-store item scanning, push and geo-fence notifications, access to wish lists, purchase history, a store locator and the Hilfiger Club loyalty program.
- Retailers are aiming to offer customers a more personalised experience. Volumental has developed 3D scanning technology combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can be used in the footwear industry. Danish footwear brand Ecco has used Volumental technology in its pilot customisation project which provides real-time analysis, data-driven design and the in-store 3D printing of silicone midsoles designed by the customer.
- Chinese Tmall has teamed up with South Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree to open “New Retail Store” in Hangzhou, China. A traditional bricks-and-mortar store is fitted out with various technological features, which provide insights for the store, as well as entirely new experience for its customers. These include a smart skin analyser, AR magic mirrors, a vending machine with cosmetic samples and smart and cloud shelves.
- As robotics and artificial intelligence continues to revolutionise the world, Selfridges’ Smartech Innovation hub has launched its first robot barista YuMIi in its store on London’s Oxford Street. The robot can make espressos for customers and even dances to the background music.
It is clear that the use of technology can offer a real boost to retailers. It can enhance the shopping experience and help to facilitate sales directly. Fundamentally, technology will make the shopping experience easier (both physical and online) and more pleasurable for the consumer, as well as making the marketing and management processes more efficient and effective. However, innovation is not just about smartphones, computers and using technology for its own sake. For retailers to be really successful, they need to fully embrace technology and use it to create exceptional and personalised customer experiences.
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Senior Research Analyst, Research & Insight EMEA
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