You have walked into your favorite music store across the street. Just as you pick up a Justin Bieber album off the shelf, digital trackers embedded in the walls identify the album with its RFID tag. A Plasma panel at the store begins to play the latest video of the pop star. As you walk towards the screen to watch this video, sensors in the store track your movements, and a high definition Prosilica camera captures your picture, feeding it to complex algorithms that morph these images. Within seconds, you are pleasantly surprised to see yourself inside the TV screen in the video, gyrating right beside the teen pop star!
Delighted with the experience, you begin to explore the rest of the store. As you move down the aisles, biometric iris recognition software detects your digital identity, and instantly downloads your past purchase and publicly available social networking history into the store’s central database. Eye motion sensors identify which shelf you are looking at, and LCD panels display the message – You “liked” Enrique’s Insomniac on Facebook, would you like to check out his new album “Euphoria” ? Your friend Maria has already bought it, and 59 buddies flashed it on Twitter!!
Well, if you thought all this was a page out of a science fiction book, then think again. This is not a futuristic wish anymore, and sophisticated technologies like these are already being deployed in retail stores right now. With the advent of Web 2.0 and advanced digital electronics, consumer retail has morphed dramatically. Leapfrogging into the future, innovation in IT is now making the customer the center of this “Digital Universe”.
The new age consumer with deep pockets and short attention spans is now more individualistic and much harder to please. With razor thin margins and a consuming need for differentiation, retailers are increasingly pushed towards cutting-edge innovation. Retailing giants like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco have already boarded the bandwagon, and the others have no choice but to follow. The key is to involve consumers at an emotional and sensory level, and shoppers are now spoilt for choice.
Retailers are now leveraging IT to enhance the end user experience, reduce costs, manage growth and capture multicultural markets. IT innovation is being used to have a consumer centric view to solve problems, achieve creative differentiation and provide complete solutions to task oriented shoppers. In this era of Do-It-for-me marketing, consumers demand retailers to speed up their transactions, driving changes in store concepts, and providing faster and convenient transaction processing and payment.
“Ethnography is the new core competence” remarked Andrew Jones in his book “Innovation acid test”. This has never been more true than now! . Working closely with market research, “knowledge activists” now explore the innovative aspects of any business proposition by cognizing customer intelligence. Corporations compete to identify and “Catch a wave”, creating opportunities to generate growth and fantastic financial performance. Digital immersive technologies like Augmented Reality are being used to integrate branding and entertainment with customer experiences, offering services that resonates with the target customer.
When you look for avenues of innovation in retail, the opportunities are endless. Starting from the use of RFID to measure inventory, warehousing, distribution operations and the supply chain, to providing an enhanced shopping experience for product and brand differentiation, IT can be used as an enabler at every step. All that we need is an imagination to sell the dream!
Augmented technology can be used in storefronts to entice shoppers. Interactive Ads will allow shoppers to “try out” something even before they walk into the store. Large screen kiosks installed at store entrances will empower shoppers to search or quickly browse through the product selection. Digital signage can be used to deliver personalized messages to shoppers, using RFID tags to identify which items they are carrying through the store. Brands stocked in that store can advertise in these digital signs, creating new revenue streams. Mobile coupons are already being used by Starbucks and Target to enhance repeat business. Customers are sent personalized messages alerting them of offers at the store. These services can be customized with location based services, and serve as key drivers of store traffic.
Indeed, IT will now allow us to peer into the living rooms of our customers, data mining their inner desires, and making it available on the supermarket shelves. The IT revolution captures the social entrepreneurship and individualistic spirit of these times. Bill Bryson, a best-selling American author has aptly captured the essence of this era – “We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls”!!