Dwarika Prasad Uniyal
How are new technologies and the social media redefining the shop, the shopping experience and the shopper? Dwarika Prasad Uniyal shares some insights on this.
the last one decade, world over, the way people are consuming brands, the way they are interacting, shopping, looking for price bargains, doing group shopping etc has changed. Internet-based sales and communication channels are replacing traditional retail and services at the same time brick and mortar retailers are integrating digital technology and social media in their retail mix. These changes have slowly started affecting traditional retailers and their customers as well as back end supply chains. Pure brick businesses are struggling with the growing competition from pure click as it is creating new opportunities for innovation. Disruptive innovations in social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have redefined the face of social interactions and a whole new generation of shoppers has evolved which understands the alphanumeric language and communicates only through BlackBerry Messengers (BBMs). This is called the i-generation which is inspired by Apple, Facebook and Android. Hence it has become imperative to explore how new technology has revolutionized the way shop fronts have changed, how line is blurring between real and virtual and how shoppers are now moving seamlessly across channels (called omnichannel retailing) like a trapeze artist. It is very critical to see this inflection point where shop, shopping and shoppers are ready to redefine this business just the way departmental stores did in 70s, Wal-Mart did in 80’s and Amazon in late 90’s.
What is changing and how?
According to the consulting firm PSFK, the time has come to re-imagine the future of shopping and now we need to think less about the conventional variables like real estate, staff, footfalls and websites and start imagining the entire world as a store. This world store is the one in which one can easily make instant purchasing regardless of time and place. A world which is driven by technology, the web community and search for rich experiences, a world where shopping is undergoing a mindboggling and sweeping transformation. At the same time, traditional retail stores do remain important as they are providing an experience to the shopper through excellent use of space, they are pushing the boundaries of storytelling, product trial and customer education. The key questions one need to ask then is, how will we shop tomorrow? Where will we buy and what services we expect to receive? We need to explore the future from the perspective of brands, shoppers, retailers and communities, emphasizing how technology and our senses play a role in creating the ultimate retail experience, both in and out of the store.
Some of the key trends we are already seeing today are immediate product research, sampling and buying, there are apps which are transforming i-phone and i-pad into credit card machine. One can already shop by just sending a text and the delivery will happen at home. Retail analytics is helping in shopper profiling based on shopping behaviour and purchase history and allows for a pre-view shopping, apps are allowing shoppers to visit the store before their trip, GPS is helping stores to give gift recommendations guided by location. Restaurants are offering tablet enabled service and interactive nightlife space connects patrons and staff.
Augmented reality apps are bringing digital imagery to real stores, which is shared through social media. Augmented reality is sparking a revolution which may change the way shoppers shop conventionally. In this futuristic world of virtual browsing shoppers are able to use 3D ‘try-on’ services and mirror technologies to help them buy over web. Augmented Reality (AR) has the potential to transform even the conventional brick and mortar retailing where shoppers can watch 3D displays of products in the showroom, share it with their friends using social media and get approval before buying. This will also alter the need to stock physical clothes and the layout of the stores. Smartphones are increasingly becoming the extension of self and apps like nearest tube in which the user will point his/her iphone into the air, films the immediate surroundings and the app indicates the geographical position and location from the nearest tube station. This can then be used to advertise stores that are nearby and give information about promotion and discounts and this will give a great advantage to smaller retailers and an ability to compete in digital space. Companies like Lego have already tested AR in stores around the world in the form of Lego Digital Box where shoppers can hold a pack of Lego bricks upto a webcam whereupon the contents are revealed in 3D before their eyes.
Social media: beyond making friends and sharing photographs:
Social networks are online communities that allow people to socialize and interact with each other and have made tremendous impact in the lives of people in last 5 years and have changed the “social” lives of young individuals. Facebook has over 900 million subscribing, twitter has over 400 million active users and numbers are growing every day. With smart phones and better mobile telephony services
the social media landscape has changed forever. Millions are logged in 24/7 and are sharing, uploading, downloading information, thoughts, ideas, doing businesses, creating new ones so on and so forth. Social media has given way to consumer to consumer (C2C) relationships and it has impacted how brands are being bought and consumed. It has given way to a new way of retailing called “social e-shopping” which is providing an enjoyable experience for young adults especially females. Research has shown that social shopping can provide women with a pleasing and arousing motivation that would encourage them to spend a longer duration, spend more money and return more often to e-retailers. Twitter and facebook aren’t just for consumer networking anymore, they have emerged as a serious business tool for brands as well as for retailers. In a research done by chain Store Age, it was found that facebook, twitter and other web and mobile advertising are steadily growing in importance for retailers and they will be very important forms of communications in the future.
How is technology changing the business dynamics?
New technologies and sophisticated analytical tools are helping retailers to track shopper behavior online, they use camera footage to analyse the paths used for shopping, it even provides aisle by aisle breakdowns of which displays are working which are not. Now, mobile devices with special apps are allowing sales clerks to instantly access customer profiles with their sales histories and suggest bargains/ merchandise accordingly and creates opportunities for cross sell as well as up sell technology is helping retailers create a personalized promotion campaign. For example, Intel developed signage and kiosk concepts that incorporate facial recognition to determine gender and age of the shopper. Screens then display promos aimed at that demographic. Similarly luxury retailer Net-a-porter launched an app to accompany its temporary pop-up-shows. It allows Smartphone users to point their devices at a window display to get more information about the products and buy them online. An interesting concept has also been introduced called virtual fitting rooms. California developer Face Cake Marketing offers software that uses Microsoft’s Kinect gaming technology to project shoppers’ image onto screen, enabling them to try clothes without undressing. An exciting example of how retailers are using social media is luxury retailer Sephora. It is reinventing retail with its new approach to online and in-store shopping. Its social and mobile makeover includes new personalized web experience , mobile website, iphone app and iOS Pinterest, adding “pin it” buttons to every product and brand image. Each product on Sephora. com has been tagged and indexed with 25 different characteristics, it also has 80000 additional images, product quick views, more colour views, time saving check outs. They are also integrated with Pinterest and instagram. The pinterest “pin it” button is on every product page, letting users to pin any of the 14000 products and its feed on instagram will give followers a behind the scenes look at the company and its staff and what trends and products are driving buzz in the beauty world.
Social media has given way to consumer to consumer (C2C) relationships and it has impacted how brands are being bought and consumed. It has given way to a new way of retailing called “social e-shopping” which is providing an enjoyable experience for young adults especially females. Research has shown that social shopping can provide women with a pleasing and arousing motivation that would encourage them to spend a longer duration, spend more money and return more often to e-retailers
Very few studies have been done to really understand the dynamics of retail business and the impact of new technology clubbed with social media and mobile telephony. It is really complicated and diffused and hence researchers have not attempted to combined the three. Studies have restricted themselves to online versus physical or role of information technology on retail especially in the backend supply chain. As the above discussion clearly points out, it is very important to understand the changed dynamics of last 5 years which is shaking the fundamentals of the retailing industry and giving it a real futuristic look. It is therefore imperative for modern day retail researchers to understand this diffusion and create theoretical frameworks for academicians and retailers to explore the future of shopping, they way it will be done, the future of retail stores and how shopper will evolve, change, adapt to it.