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Reversing the 'retail funk' with in-store engagement

July 22, 2014

For much of the last year or so, traditional brick & mortar retailers have been mired in a slump. Not only was last holiday season the toughest in several years, the consumer discretionary sector, which includes retail, was the only one of the 10 macro S&P sectors to be in the red for the first half of 2014

As a result, retail is widely perceived to be in a funk.

To change their fortunes, retailers are being encouraged to embrace omni-channel. Why? I believe it is because the majority aren't viewed as being able to compete against the pure play e-tailers as:

  1. E-commerce is not in their DNA like it is for Amazon, eBay and others;
  2. The technical skillsets required to excel in e-commerce are not readily available and there is already fierce competition for those resources amongst the digital leaders, and;
  3. With more than $260 billion in online sales in the U.S. alone in 2013, it's too late to put the lid back on Pandora's Box.

As such, retailers need to find ways to leverage their historical strength, the store, which is now often viewed as a weight around their neck.

Over 90 percent of retail sales still occur in-store. If retailers can push back against their e-commerce counterparts, it should help them stop the bleeding. And leveraging an emerging channel like mobile, or m-commerce, also factors here. The ability to identify that a customer has entered the store and to be able to engage them via their mobile device helps retailers get moving on an omni-channel initiative whose focus is to enrich and improve store performance.

The challenge most retailers face is determining which in-store location technology to use as there are several emerging and each has its pros/cons.

Here's an incomplete list:

  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons
  • Wireless Fidelity (WiFi)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Indoor Mapping
  • Mobile Wallets (e.g., Google Wallet, Passbook, etc.)
  • RFID/Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Magnetic Field Variations
  • Visible Light Communication (VLC)

Given the variety of technologies available, it would appear there won't be a single solution that dominates, although BLE Beacons are off to an early lead. That being said, I would suspect that in a few years there will be a shake-out, no doubt influenced by retail technology solution providers like Apple, Google, IBM and Oracle.

The ability to engage consumers in-store via smartphones (with their permission, of course) so they are no longer invisible has a tremendous upside. But for customers to participate, there has to be something in it for them. Retailers have to give something to get something. But knowing a loyalty customer has crossed the threshold without having to wait for them to approach a register seems like a great place to start. Making suggestions to consumers based on their location and past purchase history as well as giving them incentives seems like the logical evolution.

Brick & mortar retail needs to reinvent itself to compete with the e-commerce threat, and while the initial stage of price matching and consistent prices across sales channels is in process, it's not enough. Traditional retailers need to go on the offensive where they have the advantage — and that means in their stores. Without this, it's my opinion brick & mortar retailers are going to continue to lose market share.

Discussion Questions:

Do you agree that tech-enabled in-store customer engagement can be a potent weapon against pure-play e-commerce? What forms of engagement do you find most productive?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Do you agree or disagree that tech-enabled in-store customer engagement can be a potent weapon against pure-play e-commerce?


Store enabled technology is not at the top of consumers' omni-channel wish lists. Consumers want omni-inventory (if it's online it should be in the store), omni-pricing (same price for online and in-store), and omni-pickup and returns (buy it online pick it up in-store or buy it online and return it in-store). Retail needs to focus on these basics first, then turn attention to new technology.

Some of the new technologies retailers should be focusing on are: shopping lists, coupons and loyalty cards stored on mobile devices, phone-swipe checkout and optimizing retailers' websites for mobile viewing and use. Bombarding a consumer with near field offers is an annoyance, not a help.

Retailers should use technology to make shopping easier and faster, starting with the basics.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates


The Q2 Survey of Affluence and Wealth, published by Time Inc., showed 70 percent of affluent shoppers are disappointed by the sales and service staff and believe that they do not make positive personal connections during shopping experiences.

That's fairly damning, isn't it?

Retailers' historical advantage have always been their people. Always.

Omni-channel is a distraction.

If I hadn't had a top CEO call me last week after reading my post, "Hey Retailers! Nordstrom's Customer Service Problems Are Yours Too" and say, "You are spot-on" I might believe retail needs to reinvent itself.

How about live up to the promise of the great retail brands, the advantage of the smartest locations in the world on Michigan, Madison and Main Street; the brightest designs in SoHo, with your people?

It's always the people and their ability to sell the merchandise. Always.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

I tend to agree with Bill Davis that e-commerce is not in retail store chains' DNA. Great e-commerce takes different talent and skill sets than running stores.

That said, online assortments provide the "endless aisle" capability to expand the competitiveness of stores, while lowering inventory costs. Retailers like Walmart and Best Buy are starting to use stores as very effective distribution points in their omni-channel strategy.

In-store technology has not yet proven overwhelmingly successful in terms of driving sales through mobile offers. In store beacons and monitors are proving to be most valuable in carefully measuring footfalls and how consumer traffic responds to specific store layouts, merchandizing, etc.

The most powerful store advantage traditional retailers have are their people on the floor. To leverage their people as their differentiator, retailers have to treat them as a strategic asset rather than a labor cost to be reduced.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

I agree, but I don't agree. By that I mean there's no doubt that technology is necessary to support a better in store experience, BUT, I object to most indoor tracking systems as crossing the line from useful to creepy. Video analytics are least creepy and aren't on the list.

PLUS, the other thing that isn't on the list, and which has been characterized by retailers themselves as most important is "knowledgeable employees." We are trying to solve a human relations problem with technology (tracking, etc.) and that's exactly backwards. I don't believe employees need some kind of technology trigger to let them know they need to wait on a customer. That just seems wrong. I'm not old-fashioned. I just know the difference between service and lack of service. Perhaps employees do need technology to help educate them and put them on par with their customers.

If shoppers want a technology-only solution, they'll just stay on the web. I believe a Gallup Poll was just released that indicated the value of employee engagement in stores as perceived by consumers. Huge. The big differentiator.

Finally, I have to ask a very real question (that I do not know the answer to). Were holiday season sales down on a UNIT basis or on a dollar basis only? I do believe that the promotional frenzy retailers create depresses total dollar sales because every item is cheaper.

We've got a long way to go to bring back the luster of the stores, but we should also remember that 90 percent of sales are still consummated there. It's not a mammoth undertaking. Logic and respectfulness should go a long way to help.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

I see brick-and-mortar retail separate from e-commerce for a good number of fundamental reasons. There are many new measuring parameters that both market types use to predetermine whether inventory placement is a profitable venture. This is where the problems exist for these two types of retail. For an inventory item to be included on any shelf for either brick-and-mortar or e-commerce, there must be a must be a potential or actual turn rate allowing for acceptable profits.

The governing parameters for inclusion are being rewritten in urban and rural areas more often than ever before. A retailer's ability to correctly create and use the tools needed to identify the inventory items, both existing and new, for both the geographical demographics and potential/results for the present day customer base, is far more important than even customer engagement.

The ability, or lack thereof, to provide this inventory information can be, and should be, supplemented with third party vendor support using proven technologies that are affordable to the retail company. Consumers are changing what they buy a lot slower than where they buy an item, simply because prices and selection are leveling off, leaving availability as a larger differentiator. The right inventory and quantities are paramount to success in retail like never before, because customers can find what they want and where it is faster and faster every day.


The success of engagement is literally in the hands of shoppers; not brand marketers! It's not about which technology to use but rather what enables a solution that is consistently and repeatably valued by your shoppers. Ask your shoppers, test and measure potential solutions to determine their efficacy with YOUR shoppers. Each brand and retailer will inevitably need a different solution to reach their core customer. There will never be a single silver bullet. Any solution that makes it easier to shop is, and will always be, valued. Leveraging intelligent recommendation engines will help retailers. The key word is intelligent; just because I looked up the price of 2x4s at Home Depot doesn't mean I have an interest in wood and nail choices! The solutions that have value to your shoppers require work and commitment because they often fly in the face of the retailer's status quo.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

Is this discussion getting a little old?

Brick-and-mortar retailers must align themselves with the desires of their customers. Customers are voting with their dollars each year that they like to buy online. The clock is not turning back. The best way for brick-and-mortar retailers to fight the pure-play e-tailers is to provide everything that the e-tailers provide and use their stores as a competitive advantage.

As I've said many times in these discussions, it makes no difference where an item is sold. If a customer goes in a store, sees an item and buys online from the same retailer, the profit looks the same. This idea that store has to sell its merchandise store is counterproductive. Use the store as a showcase.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

It is really quite simple. Anything the retailer can do to create a better experience via engagement/interaction must be used to compete against e-commerce. Just as a small local retailer may be down the street from a big box competitor (think Ace Hardware and Home Depot), they can coexist as long as they play to their strengths. Engagement, interaction, the human touch, etc., are all good ways to enhance a customer's experience.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

I agree with Bill's point in this article, however whenever these discussions about in-store technologies develop, they come down to doing the same old same old:

  1. tracking shoppers
  2. providing offers (discounts)
  3. providing additional product info
  4. loyalty programs

Yaaaawn ...

To differentiate and leverage shoppers in meaningful ways, beyond what they can do at home and beyond what every competitor is thinking of doing, these mobile-facing technologies need to be used for display and product engagement, to create desirable/sharable experiences in-store. Online cannot do this ever, so that is where brick-and-mortar can stake an advantage.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Customers see a retailer as a brand and expect consistency and convenience across the channels that retailer provides. Max makes some great points above, in that much of the focus around incorporating new technology into the in-store experience is not necessarily what will make the experience better for the customer.

Engage that customer in-store, provide a convenient option to obtain the same merchandise available online (at the same price) and enhance the experience through direct interaction (ensuring all needs are met, informing of promotions, etc).

Kevin Leifer, Vice President, Client Success, ICC/Decision Services

Phibbs has it right—again.

I just read a Business Insider article about the old Martin Greenfield Clothiers, a men's handmade suit manufacturer in Brooklyn. 86-year-old Greenfield still comes in six days a week to feel the fabric, smooth a tailored shoulder and welcome a customer. Strangely, that gave me an insight into what might be wrong with most retail today. In short ...

It has no soul.

It has omni-channel strategy, iPads for salespeople, contemporary lighting, aggressive pricing, blah, blah, blah. But it's like a TV production set; there's nothing behind the facade. Even "engagement strategies" are hollow shells.

To paraphrase ancient wisdom: You can win the price and technology game in retail, but if you lose your soul, you lose everything.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

No. The entire premise of "pure-play e-commerce" is the convenience of shopping without having to go to a store. As soon as we push the store factor into the equation, we have dramatically changed the premise of the entire online experience. Nothing can be compared to the online-empowered experience except for another online experience.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

While tech-enabled customer engagement sounds like an easy answer to address the decline in retail revenue, I am concerned that such an approach may be a "shiny new thing" that could easily detract and distract retailers from a more fundamental issue in customer experience.

As all of us will attest, retail customer experience is at best acceptable, and at worst unpleasant in many retailers across America. The poor customer experience is driven by a lack of training and empowerment of retail store associates. That lack of training and empowerment leads to high turnover, which further decreases customer experience.

Technology is not the answer to that question; mission and values are. Only then will retail rebound in a way that combats digital growth.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

Oh stop! Please. This whole thing about the store being "a weight around their neck" is getting old. All this about more tech in stores will solve the problems is killin' me. STOP!

Many of the BrainTrust wizards and good retailers know that the big issues in their stores today are having the service that PEOPLE provide and the BASICS of have the right product in the right place, etc. Surrounding these core areas is the marketing/seasonal assortments/promo areas and more—they are the IMAGINATION of RETAIL.

All together they create the shopping experience that will be repeated.

Online retail is growing, but it is a major distance from the power of the store. Toss all the metrics you want at my statements, but the STORE is the CENTER of the retail universe and the online channel is an element of this universe...call it a planet.

Carl Sagan would agree...and as he said: "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere."

Without the store—retail could not be retail.

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Tom Redd, Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

We are currently working with club retailer on a very proactive tech enablement tool leveragong Blippar to help bring the club environment to life before the physical location opens to drive member aquisition. This also is a great alternative site tool to bring the club to life away from the physical environment. Results have been very strong, consumer engagement has been eager and excellent. Innovation is a scary place but when you bring smart thinking with strong strategy grounded in ROI, it becomes safer.

Our belief is that the magic is how to you leverage technology to drive traffic back into store/club while taking advantage of the digital investments you have made online to create integrated engagements. There should not be a one channel focus mentality - those days are over - the shopper is smarter and demands more.

People will always be the most valuable aspect of BM retailing but in absence of that or in augmentation of that technology is a powerful asset. Tomorrow is about how we weave these varying innovations and investments together to create optimal engagement strategies that serve shopper behavior and needs without confusion or difficulty.

Lee Esmond, VP, Integrated Marketing, AMG - Mosaic

Tech enablement helps, but nothing beats well-trained employees. I had to buy a pack "ring snuggie" (don't ask) from the local Claire's store yesterday. The associate told me they were out, but directed me to their sister store 3 floors up to Icing who may have it. Went up there and the associate directed me to the package and explained how it is used outside of the instructions on the package. That's what I call a good shopping experience, without the technology.

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Kenneth Leung, Retail and Customer Experience Expert, Independent

Yes, tech-enabled "smart stores" are a potent weapon. Engagement which demonstrates a knowledge of the product or desire to create the best shopping experience for the customer are the most productive.

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

I agree with those who have said the most potent weapon is employees who can actually assist the customer in the way in which they would like to be assisted.

Yes, employees do need some technology to do this, but what they don't need is to repeat back to the customer what the customer has already found via research. They need to be able to answer the customer's questions, help them style, make informed decisions. After all, the customer went out of their way to come to the store. They did that for a reason.

Retailers, map out those customer journeys and arm your sales associates to meet them along the way. THAT is your weapon and THIS is my 2 cents!

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Shoppers would love to use the apps in-store if there were some compelling reason to do so...in most cases there is not. While technology is budding and iBeacons and other tracking devices are now affordable, unless there is a compelling business model for the retailer to both invest and proliferate these technologies, the growth of new in-store shopper engagement will remain slow and ad hoc.

Accordingly technology must be more than engaging for the shopper, it must solve existing retailer pain points and actually show tangible economic impact on the near term P&L, preferably in both building sales and providing operational efficiency.

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

First and foremost, retailers will need to make some tough decisions about their real estate footprint. Size and number of locations will have to be considered. Trees will need to be pruned.

I'm with Ken above. We need to look beyond procurement and convenience and look at how a brand relates to its customers' behavior to understand the right mix of technology.

I like to think of tech as a new merchandising tool. Far more robust and potent than what has come before, but not replacing what we know works. Can we get people to use their screens to tell us more about who they are and what they want? Sure can. Can we give them more and better information about the purchase they are considering in the aisle? Absolutely.

Can a context aware smart environment aid staff and customer alike? I think so.

All these things are tools to be used to craft the right experience at the right time.

I believe we are at the very beginning of a convergence. When we get web-like analytics from in-store behavior prior to the purchase, we'll have more evidence as to what works and what does not.

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Chuck Palmer, Vice President of Strategy, JohnRyan

All good in a digital integrated marketplace, but brick and mortar stores have lost their identity by only upgrading via technology. They have completely abandoned retail marketing and touch points that only retail brick and mortar can provide. The reason for abandonment has been delivered as ROI or cost to do such programs.

Unfortunately, it's the sell in and accountability that was lacking vs getting the payout. Like anything else, it takes organizational commitment to "winning at retail."

Funny how traditional advertising still rules as a means of share of revenue...and digital advertising continues to lag behind. Traditional advertisement has done a great job of keeping that share of revenue.

However, at retail (brick & mortar) just the opposite has happened; they are investing and moving into the future of digital vehicles (which inherently aid online marketplaces more than B&M) and abandoning traditional in-store promotions.

An integrated approach to retail and e-tail-tainment will be a interesting approach for those B&M retailers.

Human touch points, whether through selling, merchandising, service, greeters, or a simple smile/hello, will continue to lead a brick and mortar retailer to grow share of relationship vs digital relationship. Retail (B&M) must integrate and lead with brick before click.

douglas haase, CEO, Haaseline Entertainment

Consumers want to be treated like human beings, not data streams. The best way to offer customers a great experience when they walk in the door is to offer them a smile and a friendly hello. Ask open-ended questions. Take the time to get to know them. The best intel any sales person can gather is from observation and conversation, especially from listening.

Data on past purchases isn't always an accurate prognosticator of future opportunities. Let brick and mortar stores focus on what they are best equipped to do—create memorable experiences through human interaction.

I'm curious as to what percentage of the population makes the 10 percent of purchases online.


Yes. The reasons are walking in, and out, of shop fronts each day. Almost 50% of home shoppers consult at least three channels before buying a product, according to a 2012 analysis by the research groups Conlumino and Webloyalty. That compares with less than 14% in 2002. Yet only 29% of customers COLLOQUY surveyed in June said they expect a merchant will have the product they need when they go to the store.

That is a lot of lost sales. It is no surprise that almost 83% of executives said they intend to invest in omnichannel strategies in the near future, according to a 2013 survey of 120 senior executives by the Winterberry Group and Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Omnichannel strategies work because they focus not on the delivery or communications channel, but on the customers who use them, enabling them to move easily from stores or bank branches to the web or a mobile app. In many ways, omnichannel is the logical evolution of multi-channel; taking the many purchase opportunities presented to consumers and interweaving them so each channel is aware of what is happening with the other.

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Bryan Pearson, President and CEO, LoyaltyOne

Well it can't hurt! The engagement I find most productive is being offered what I need at a great price when I want it. Most retailers are stuck in retail sale promotion mindsets that deny most consumers great pricing on what they want when they want it. The internet doesn't do this. You can Google or Amazon or even eBay what you want and get a choice of prices and services right now—you don't have to wait on a sale!

If retail would stuff what worked in 1950 in a bag and throw it in the river, that would be great. If retail wants the e-commerce business back then let them meet e-commerce prices from legitimate e-commerce sites like Amazon. Retail is wasting billions playing games with consumers and falling further behind every day. Quit spending your money on sales flyers and up & down pricing. Give me what I want when I want it—Amazon does!

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

Some great feedback here and glad to see people found this worth commenting on. All I can offer as someone who was involved in the emergence of eCommerce in the mid 90s is that we again find ourselves in the infancy of a similar change, this one focused on mobile.

While how this plays out is still to be determined, mobile is where things are headed and if traditional retailers don't start using their stores and mobile to push back, then it's hard to see eCommerce growth rates slowing. While the retail landscape as we know it today is going to be substantially different in 5+ years, the question I am interested in seeing answered is what role will brick & mortar retailers have in shaping this future.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Retailers need a combination of discreet digital "touch points" coupled to BLE and mobile engagement in order to effectively fight e-commerce.  Although mobile engagement seems as if it could work on its own, too few shoppers opt in because of concerns about privacy and their reluctance to be bombarded while in-store. According to a Gartner study, although 30% of shoppers check in via mobile while in-store, 80% are not OK with retailers using loyalty data to send personalized offers. The study further highlights that although 65% would be willing to get some personalized offers, they want to decide which information retailers use.

In other words, retailers MUST walk a fine line between in-store mobile engagement and mobile annoyance. It is simply a matter of TRUST.

The use of discreet digital "touch points" throughout the store enables shoppers to pick and choose what and where they engage via mobile. This obviously varies by retail channel, but the strategy depends on the type of B+M store and the need for information (beyond price) which a shopper requires to make a buying decision.

The proper combination of digital, BLE and mobile can round out the B+M shopping experience and result in more confident buying decisions by shoppers. Shoppers get to touch and feel actual product and the instant gratification of walking out of the store with their purchase, coupled with the information rich on-line experience they have come to expect.

There is no "one size fits all" solution, but e-commerce is here to stay and B+M retailers must combat it from a position of strength.

Martin Amadio, President, Inity InStore

When I walk into a store, I have made a decision that I want to engage! I want to engage the merchandise that is in that store, I want to engage the staff if I need help and if I want information. Most of all I want to be in that store. When I am shopping online, I do not care about engagement as I am seeking information, pricing, content etc. The store is the place for engagement, sorry but I do not expect or want or need technology while in the store.

Oh, by the way, the shoppers I know have no idea what Omni-channel is, nor care.

David Lubert, Industry Principal, Bridge-x Technologies

Interesting comments, but none of them address the reasons e-commerce is so successful. The efficiency of finding, comparing same product in different stores as well as competing products, and evaluating functionality of product from actual consumers cannot be matched by traditional retailers. A consumer, within the span of 15 minutes, can find a product online, compare prices at 5 different sellers, and read reviews from other actual consumers and have the ability to determine if the desired item is suitable to their needs. A brick and mortar store can not compete with this kind of efficiency.


Make it easy. Find a solution to the customer's problem. If technology can help, then by all means, have the proper kind of technology to be the best in service. No tech for the sake of tech. I don't think this can be applied as broadly as "all retail." There are some categories that no matter how much tech you have, nothing can take the place of the experience.

Apparel retailers are in an especially tricky spot. Of course,you can buy online from a particular brand as you may know your size etc., but to keep things fresh, new designs and trends arrive constantly. There is no substitute for feeling the fabric, seeing the drape fabric, the fit, etc.

Yes, tech is potent weapon, more potent perhaps in categories that do not require in-person human discernment. We have yet to develop a suitable app for this!

heather thornswood, Creative Director+Strategist, Good People Branding

There are a number of data points that support this approach:

  1. Majority of the in-store shoppers use smartphones in the store for browsing, getting product info and price comparison.
  2. A number of retailers are acknowledging challenges with managing localized assortments and in-stock levels; hence, there is a need for an endless aisle (extension of omni-channel) that is competitive.
  3. A recent informal survey among millennials showed that they are willing to share feedback to the retailer, while in the store, in return for some benefit.
  4. Shoppers want personalized, timely and relevant information in the store; be it a product recommendation, promotion or product information.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have the opportunity to "reverse the funk" and acquire/retain/grow/engage the shopper by leveraging one or more solutions like:

  1. Video analytics using security cameras to understand customer pathways and optimize promotion vehicle placement, store layout and queue management.
  2. Beacons/NFC tags/geo-fencing based solution to acquire the customers, reward them for their loyalty, engage them to satisfy their needs in real time, grow them by cross-sell/up-sell through advanced promotion analytics, and engage them (crowd-sourcing) to provide feedback on new product ideas at the shelf, insights into shelf level insights (OOS, shelf level issues)
  3. At the same time, it is imperative to reduce the friction in this process by having a seamless integration between the in-store solution, smartphone and the e-commerce site. If the product is not on the shelf, a single click/tap/scan should take the shopper to the e-commerce site where another click can help consummate the purchase.

Sweeni Ponoth, Global Practice Leader - Retailer & Brands, Symphony Teleca

Tech-enabled in-store customer engagement is a treading water approach: it might stem losses in the short term, but it will not position the retailer for the long term. In an increasingly omni-channel world replete with showrooming and webrooming, there is no option for retailers that want to survive and ultimately succeed than to go all-in for omni-channel. Unified pricing and assortment strategy are two major areas that come first: shoppers expect the same experience and pricing in-store as they do online and vice versa. Once retailers have the right long-term strategy in place, they can look into other technologies for the shorter term.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

Each retailer needs to understand their customers first and tailor brand-right experiences for their segments. The key is finding the right strategic partner that can harness the technology in the right way for these ideal experiences.

Truth is, retail environments need to become more animated and compelling. Not more distractions, but thoughtful and meaningful ways to engage consumers are needed.

Context-aware environments are interesting to think about. Can a store space "know" who is there and tailor merchandising and messaging for the most valuable, loyal customers? Early testing says yes. Scaling it properly and extracting web-like analytics from these in-store system will be the reason to believe the investment is worth it.

BUT the tech cannot get in the way. As we know in store design, if your design is too apparent, it has failed. Tech, like all the other design and deployment disciplines must ultimately be transparent so the customer engages the brand and products, not the screens.

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Chuck Palmer, Vice President of Strategy, JohnRyan

As a vendor of some in-store technology, I kind of agree. I don't necessarily think it should be pitched "against" pure-play e-commerce. Physical stores need to react in a number of ways to address what walks through the door every day.

Let's take an example. Contrary to some of the comments, when I walk in to a store, I DON'T want help/assistance/in-your-face attention right away. I want to be left alone. For a while at least. Let me wander, look around, get comfortable, etc. Then, when I DO want some help, give me some options as to how I get it. Ask someone? Fine. How about an easy way to ask for help on my phone?

Or let's take a different example: high value jewelery. When I walk into one of these stores (it doesn't happen often) the ratio of staff to customers is quite high. The product is behind glass. There are no prices visible. I'd like to be able to A.) ignore everyone for a while, B.) see information on my phone about the products behind glass as I wander around ("whoah! I'm in the wrong section of the store! :-)") and then C.) ping for help when, and only when, I want it. That's service designed around ME.

Anyway, very good article IMHO. I summarized some of these technologies in one of our slide decks online, in case that's useful. The comments have also been excellent reading!

Sean O Sullivan, CEO, LocalSocial

From the customer's perspective, they want valuable, seamless brand interactions across all touch points. Retailers need to offer tailored promotions, discounts, or services particular to the individual customer, driving loyalty and recurring business. With real-time data enterprise-wide store data, these promotions can be designed based on browsing history, purchase history (no matter what channel), location, and return history. Using this data, a sports store won't send a golf promotion to someone who only buys baseball gear and apparel. Now if that same store is closing out its baseball stock to bring in winter sports gear, this customer would probably love to know about the clearance sale. Making content more valuable creates more brand value and creates loyalty, the holy grail for all retailers.

Mobile shopping, especially in the form of mobile applications, empowers retailers to engage with shoppers throughout the shopping process in new and, most importantly, creative ways. Opt-in apps that allow customers to interact with the brand inside stores can push messages and alerts to patrons, increasing the effectiveness of promotions and building brand loyalty. There's also a wide range of data capabilities that allow retailers to create a personalized, end-to-end mobile shopping experience for every consumer - and as mobile continues to proliferate, we're seeing more and more of this technology in different forms and formats everywhere we shop.

Leo Suarez, Senior Vice President for Worldwide Marketing and Strategy, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions

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