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.

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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.

Cur­rent Trends

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.

Fu­ture Trends

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

Fu­ture Di­rec­tion

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.

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