New advances in technology are debuting at lightning speed. But do they create a fundamentally better experience for your customers? Here are three that might.
It can be hard not to become captivated by all the new technology unveiled at an alarming rate seemingly every day. After all, technology is the lifeblood of much of our personal and professional lives. It is the underpinning to every strategic, business or marketing decision we make. Certainly, it fuels everything from the mundane to the cutting edge when it comes to customer engagement and loyalty.
Yet chasing technology for its own sake is a fool’s game. When it comes to how you integrate it into the retail landscape, the question should go beyond what is cool and new. We must set our sights to a transformative point on the horizon where we create a fundamentally new and better experience for our customers. If it does not bring benefit to both the customer and the retailer, the sustainability of the impact to company and customer is limited, no matter how shiny and new the latest gadget is.
There are countless disruptive advancements impacting the retail world – some new, some evolved from shifts in consumer behavior:
- Transition from a supply-driven to a demand-driven marketplace
- Redefinition of transactions, specifically in the payment space
- Blockchain moving into the mainstream
- The explosion of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies
- Artificial intelligence applications, such as customer service chatbots and machine learning
- Intelligence amplification (voice-controlled home assistants such as Alexa and Amazon Echo)
- Advances in mapping-related services such as geolocation and beacon-directed communications and offers
- Technologies that have the human body as a central component, such as biometrics and wearables (everything from Fitbit to futuristic tech-enabled tattoos or eyeglasses)
Any disruptors could transform the retail experience in some way, and it makes betting on consumer-facing technologies even more difficult to assess. The trick lies in how they are applied to solving problems or providing opportunities.
With any of the hot new tools available, how do retailers advance the relationship with the customer? Do those tools do a better job of getting people in the door, or encouraging a sign-up or a download? Do they make it easier to help consumers engage with the brand, making an emotional or personalized connection? Do they remove friction from an interaction, streamline an important process or shave time or cost from a function? Do they create a natural frequency of interaction or repeat usage behavior in using a product or service?
Several pieces of research from LoyaltyOne have found that consumers have high expectations about how technology is used to create a better customer journey. In the Weighing in on Wearables report, for example, 32% of those surveyed said they have concerns about fraud or privacy when considering buying wearables, and 63% of Americans said they were leery of the price tags for the technology. The ease that technology can bring into their lives is a big consideration for consumers. In 2016 LoyaltyOne research findings, 26% of millennials said they stopped participating in a loyalty program because it lacked a smartphone app. And in LoyaltyOne grocery e-commerce research, North American shoppers cited the perks of technology as reasons to shop for groceries online: 57% of those who do so agree that the website they use has easy navigation, and 53% agree that ordering online saves time.
Whatever the type of technology, shopper expectations are rising and the new standard for a frictionless experience is just as likely to be set by Uber or Airbnb than by competitive retailers. It’s no longer enough to compare your customer experience to competitors’. Customers won’t tolerate anything less than a seamless experience, and retailers should not tolerate anything less than a mutually beneficial application. As for the technologies that are moving the needle when it comes to the customer journey, here are several to keep an eye on.
Telematics. Through the integrated use of communications and information technology, telematics enables information to be transmitted from telecommunications devices to remote objects over a network. The technology is associated primarily with vehicle fleets, but it has the potential to solve problems and open opportunities for insurance companies, municipalities, telecom companies and more.
One recent example of the deployment of telematics comes from a campaign that Latvia-based loyalty company PINS is conducting in Turkey with the Turkish Highway Corp., which hopes to decrease accidents on a major highway. The effort will use insurance incentives to encourage safe driving – something that has also been done in South Africa and Italy, decreasing accidents on designated roads by 30%. The project in Turkey uses the PINS virtual currency as the service hub and employs both a point system and insurance service. It will provide maps and music services via a mobile app, awarding points to drivers who observe speed limits and demonstrate other safe habits. Points can be earned and used for shopping and eating at restaurants along the highway route.
PINS CEO Gabi Kool has said of both the effort in Turkey as well as the telematics powering it: “If we imagine that big data represents a person, the possibilities of this data usage will become limitless.”
Fingerprinting. This technology is most often associated with an audio fingerprinting service such as Shazam, which uses an algorithm to link unidentified pieces of audio content (a snippet of a song) to meta data and identify that content. Most people are familiar with fingerprinting services through their mobile phone – for example, they’re in a coffee shop or on a road trip with friends and want to know, “I love this song, but I can’t recall the name of it. What is it?”
But there are audience measurement applications inherent in this fingerprinting technology, and there are possibilities for retailers, communications providers, media companies and others to collect better audience data from consumers who are watching television. In addition, there are potential uses in loyalty programs, with the possibility of incentivizing customers and attaching rewards to their viewing habits. Media has always relied on viewer data; now, fingerprinting technology creates a scenario where both the customer and the company are served.
GIS. Short for geographic information systems, GIS is a computer mapping system combining a database linked to mapped features. For retailers, GIS technology is especially rife with possibility. With the ability to identify customers that GIS can provide, the world really changes. Not only can a retailer identify the fact that you are in the store; it can offer a personalized bonus as you walk in and update offers as you go through the aisles.
In today’s retail universe, location goes far beyond just the physical site of a brick-and-mortar store. The customer is the central location in a retail relationship, and customers – unlike stores – don’t stay in one spot. However, that’s not a prescription for tracking everything customers do in an invasive way. But advanced location technology such as GIS gives more ability than ever to collect and use complex data in a responsible, interesting and mutually beneficial way – including across devices – that is invaluable to brands and can create a better experience for both the retailer and the customer. The ability to present offers to customers on the shopping cart or the ATM has become commonplace in some countries, such as Brazil. Now we’re seeing more advancements in facial recognition that will further bolster offer personalization supported by technology.
There will always be new technologies or new ways of using existing technologies. The trick is to use them in ways that create new value for customers, enhance experiences, solve problems and increase personalization – without losing track of customers underneath an avalanche of data. As Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said at the retail giant’s annual shareholders meeting in June, “We will compete with technology, but win with people.”