The latest developments in retail technology are delivering greater power for companies to communicate with audiences and customers, deliver targeted messages that save advertising spend, recognise returning customers, personalise offers, and measure results.
In addition, important powerful technologies now available to consumers, such as the mobile web, location services and social media, present both opportunities and challenges to retailers. Location services, for example, provide the possibility to present offers to customers in the vicinity of a store, while social networking provides a convenient channel for customers to share information and opinions about their purchases. Accordingly, retailers must establish strong presence in an increasing number of channels, and ensure customers perceive a superior experience at every ‘touch point’.
An interesting trend is the transition from multi-channel retailing across physical stores, catalogues, telephone sales and online to a new approach based around the notion of the omni-channel shopper. Omni-channel shoppers use all available channels, including mobile, simultaneously to access the goods and services they need. This type of shopper is an attractive target for retailers; purchases researched on the internet and then completed in store outnumber e-commerce sales by as much as four to one according to some sources. Omni-channel shoppers are also reckoned to spend around 15-30% more than other customers.
New technology in-store
Clearly, in-store remains a popular channel for today’s shoppers, despite the rise of online commerce and internet-only retailers. But the environment is changing, not only providing a more up to date and compelling customer experience but also ensuring consistency with other channels and connecting more closely with individuals. The changes can be seen in increasing use of interactive fixtures providing access to online information and digital signage offering promotions and messages that are tailored to certain audiences and consistent with other channels. Retailers are also equipping employees with advanced technology such as handheld devices for logging customer requirements and quickly checking stock levels on-site or at other stores in the network.
Intelligent systems: adding value to the shopping experience.
With such changes now in progress, it is critical for retailers to have a competent technology platform supporting the convergence of multiple activities such as transaction processing, loyalty/gift-card handling, inventory management and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). By connecting activities such as these, retailers are able to manage inventory in real time, create better promotions and sell-through strategies, recognise returning customers and deliver more consistent, personalised and rewarding experiences.
Platform for converged commerce
Historically, the industry has been moving towards the ideal of delivering a seamless experience through the adoption of bespoke systems developed closely with dedicated technology partners. Although successful, in terms of achieving functional objectives, projects can demand heavy commitment of time and resources on the part of the retailer. Solutions also tend to be expensive financially, and slow to develop. Using off-the-shelf retail-oriented software such as Microsoft®SQL Server® supporting intelligent capabilities and Windows® Embedded POSReady, which is optimised for retail applications, developers can now realise individually tailored retail-system solutions quickly and cost effectively.
Businesses of all sizes and in various sectors such as hospitality, clothing and food retailing are basing strategies for converged commerce on applications leveraging the inherent interoperability permitted by these types of systems to simplify activities such as collecting, recording and analysing data from key business activities. Application developers can customise applications to suit the needs of individual retailers to improve business performance and enhance interactions with customers, while also ensuring security, scalability and the flexibility to support future enhancements.
Intelligent systems add value
Intelligent systems built this way allow data to flow throughout enterprises, and can help unlock hidden business value. Tracking key data such as store data, purchase data for customers and response levels to individual campaigns helps companies understand customers’ needs and create better promotions and targeted offers. Businesses are also able to capture employee workflow data to help improve efficiency and enhance service to customers.
Retailers will soon be able to gain even greater power to monitor consumer responses to visual messaging presented on out-of-home digital screens, using advanced systems capable of automatically collecting information about the number of viewers a screen is attracting, as well as their attention span and demographic information such as gender and age range. Systems such as the Intel® AIM Suite combine multiple sensors with advanced computer algorithms and should provide a more efficient means of capturing and analysing such data compared to traditional audience research.
Hardware making it happen
Digital signage, coordinated and controlled via a powerful Content Management System (CMS) is often both the gateway and launch pad enabling retailers to build new communication channels with their customers. Careful selection of the CMS provides a sound platform from which businesses can move forward to integrate more advanced digital communication technologies. This can include custom handheld devices used by employees and interactive kiosks used by customers, in addition to more adventurous use of digital signage throughout the store. Falling prices for digital signage software and computers capable of acting as media players are key factors allowing extensive use of advanced visual communications. One example is the Advantech ARK series of rugged, fanless, compact embedded PCs. As a small form-factor alternative, the 4.5-inch x 4.4-inch NUC from Intel provides a networkable engine for intelligent computing in small spaces.
The final link in the in-store digital presentation is the screen. Today’s large-size LCDs provide a choice of units that are relatively lightweight, support vibrant colours and sharp image quality, and can be installed without requiring an expensively engineered mounting. The latest LED backlight technology provides excellent colour and brightness control at reduced power consumption, and enables panels to be thin and therefore easy to use in a wide variety of in-store roles. Displays are commonly used in standard sizes up to around 65 inches – and sometimes up to 80 inches for special applications – while units with ultra-narrow bezels give great results in video walls. Long-life industrial-grade panels, such as the AUO range, are considered rugged and durable enough for continuous operation in busy retail applications. Adoption of digital signage is growing throughout the retail sector, both for use in-store and also in outdoor areas where screens must typically offer a wide operating-temperature range and high brightness to ensure adequate visibility.
Increasingly powerful technology enabling tracking, collecting, logging and analysing customer and business data is becoming readily available to the retail sector, enabling companies to respond effectively to ongoing changes in consumer behaviour. The winning businesses will be those that use the technology most effectively to deliver more compelling customer experiences and improve operational efficiency throughout the enterprise.
About the author
James Stannard is Brand Manager for Software at the Arrow Electronics OCS Division – www.arroweurope.com
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