Retailers worry about keeping up
she said, will be used to make their shopping experiences easier.
“I think the world will evolve that way,” she said. “People are already playing around with those things.”
A presentation by FaceFirst demonstrated how retailers could use facial-recognition technology to engage customers after they walked into stores.
The company’s chief executive, Peter Trepp, showed how stores could send automatic text messages to shoppers and receive their profiles to assist them better. He showed an example of a profile, which contained a shopper’s visit history, the minutes she spent in the store on her last trip, what she bought during that visit and the sum of her online purchases with the store’s chain.
In an email exchange after the conference, Trepp emphasized that the company was focused on the privacy and security of customer data. He said “most of what we’ve sold in the past is related to loss prevention and mitigating organized retail crime.”
“However,” Trepp said, “we see our business shifting toward providing solutions for improving the customer experience and believe that optin solutions like these will become the largest part of our business in the future. We are working with several large retailers on this today.”
The challenge of gathering more information from stores – which lack the reams of customer data collected by retailers online – was further highlighted in a presentation from Orbital Insight, a company that uses satellite imagery for a variety of analysis, including counting cars in parking lots to help gauge traffic to retail chains.
James Crawford, the company’s founder and chief executive, said that within the last year, the company had added geolocation data from cellphones to its offerings. While the data is anonymous, a unique number is associated with each phone so the company can study traffic patterns within malls or other “trade areas,” he said.
Crawford said that while retailers knew the foot traffic in their own stores, they weren’t typically aware of what was happening in front of their stores or elsewhere in a mall or community.
Orbital Insight can gather geolocation data from 10 to 20 percent of phones in any mall, he said, with pings every 15 minutes on average. The company said in an email that it gathered information from vendors that draw data from “a combination of safety, social, family and weather apps,” and that it worked only with those that required consent for location services.
While many conversations during the week centered on data – one retailer even mentioned the term “offline cookie” to refer to in-person browsing information – retailers are also trying other tactics to drum up business at their stores.
“We have to admit we’re not just in the product business anymore,” Daniella Vitale, chief executive of the Barneys department store chain, said in an interview. “The expectation of what a retail experience should be is beyond just good product and excellent customer service.”
As the various technological experiments showed, America’s oldest retailers are aware of how challenging the retail landscape remains.
When asked about her biggest fear, Foulkes of Hudson’s Bay said, “Our own inability to move fast enough.” Erik Nordstrom, a co-president of his family’s chain, said that while the company’s strategic choices and direction had been right, “we need to be more agile.”
And Art Peck, chief executive of Gap Inc., which just spun off its Old Navy brand, closed his presentation with three words that he said the company’s founder, Don Fisher, used to say frequently: “Change or fail.”