The UK, and particularly London corporate finance, is the spearhead for the world’s in-store technology market, with supermarkets and other retailers increasingly digitalising the shopping experience. From interactive mirrors that double up as video screens, to scan-and-go handsets that speed up grocery shopping, technology innovation is emerging as a key battleground for differentiation in bricks-&-mortar retailing.
Spurred on by the power of its Internet retailing platforms, the UK has become a front-runner of in-store digital innovation. At Burberry’s flagship store on London’s Regent Street, chips embedded in clothes trigger video content on mirrors, staff glide around with iPads and there is a hydraulic stage for live concerts. It is a window into the future of mainstream fashion retailing. Burberry’s aim is to maximise the personal shopping experience in its physical stores, but also to make its in-store and online shopping experiences more seamless. The Regent Street store is now a magnet for tourists (and a retail template for rival brands).
In-store technology does not come cheap, however, and there is limited room for getting it wrong. This is why most big-name retailers are investing in new technology behind the scenes, or piloting ideas in one-off stores. The next big frontier is near-field communication (NFC), which enables shoppers to use mobile devices not only to pay for things, but also to scan, review and get information on products, all in real time. The UK’s upmarket grocer Waitrose is one of the leading players piloting NFC, taking its existing Quick Check self-scanning service to new levels of digital sophistication. The success of this type of in-store innovation is critical for Waitrose, and its peers, as it seeks to fend off the growing threat of grocery discounters like Aldi and Lidl.
Waitrose’s mobile technology ambitions go beyond scanning, though. The chain is trialing beacons (wireless Bluetooth-enabled sensors) in its stores, allowing it to transmit promotional material and recommendations direct to shoppers’ smartphones, as they walk down the aisles.
It follows that as Waitrose collects more data on its consumers, and the type of products they typically buy, so the promotional messages will become more tailored. This is already common in online grocery shopping where consumers are routinely reminded about products they bought last time they shopped, or alerted to promotional deals on products they like.
With this planned smartphone technology, consumers will also be able to scan a product, such as a bottle of wine, and get immediate information about it, read reviews or even write their own review. Once again, this type of innovation is drawing directly on the Internet for its inspiration. If retailers have learned anything from the Internet, it is about the importance of engaging with consumers and making marketing more bespoke.
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