Retail Customer Experience: Google+ Launches With Mobile Hangouts

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Oct 04, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

Google recently ended its invitation-only Google+ test run, opening the network to everyone. With an estimated 25 million (beta) users, Google+ has been upgraded with a search capability and enhanced "Hangouts" feature that lets smartphone subscribers broadcast their video chat conversations for others to see.

Google said on its official blog its well-received Hangouts feature — where up to nine people can link up and chat with a user on video — will be available on camera equipped smartphones powered by its own Android software with support for Apple iOS devices "coming soon." The user can also host an online broadcast with the feature, effectively recording a session and broadcasting it live for public access online. Black Eyed Peas singer, will.i.am, hosted the first Hangout on Air on September 21.

"Hangouts should keep pace with how you socialise in the real-world, so today we’re launching it on the one device that’s always by your side: your mobile phone," Google’s senior vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra said on the blog post.

The launch, especially the availability of a video-chat-and-publish feature, is big news for researchers seeking to put their finger on the pulse of their ever fickle consumers.

"As part of the research mix, video chats are a valuable part of the qualitative information needed from customers," said Mark Michelson of Threads Qualitative Research. "The videos will give researchers the opportunity to validate their quantitative findings, better understand demographics, and put numbers into perspective."

For retailers, video chats will let them see with their own eyes how well the brands they carry and the services they offer are performing for their customers — in real time. Video chats will also inform retailers about the emotional side of the buying experience by providing visuals and spoken phrases that reveal how their experience design is making their customers feel. The immediacy and vividness of "video evidence" will bring retailers face-to-face with service and experience design issues that need attention now.

"The challenge for retailers will be to listen to the right things and make sense of them. Just because something is interesting doesn’t make it something to respond to," said Simack Salari, founder and director of ETHOS, a research and software company that specializes in ethnographic research. "The big interest to retailers in video chats should be the mundane, not the exciting, because exciting things don’t happen that often. This technology will create unprecedented transparency for retailers because more people are prepared to capture and share their experiences than ever before."

The viewable hangout chats now available on Google+ may mean that certain research services are needed less by retailers. On the other hand, new expertise will be required to find meaningful patterns in the new data types. As customers begin using their visits to stores, hospitals, airports, theaters, and theme parks as backdrops for their conversations with friends, they will become a valuable new kind of feedback channel for those experience designers and service designers willing to listen to them.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of video chat features as a consumer research tool able to capture consumer experiences in real-time? Do you see more potential for such features as a marketing and consumer engagement tool?

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9 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Google+ Launches With Mobile Hangouts"


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Doron Levy
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Doron Levy
9 years 7 months ago

Hangouts? Video Chats? Circles? I have to be honest, all this stuff is just a distraction. If retailers need a ‘video chat’ at their ‘hangout’ from within their ‘circle’ to find out what’s wrong, then they are not engaging their customer by traditional and more efficient means. Don’t get me wrong, I think that social media is a very valuable tool for merchants but this ‘technology’ just over complicates things and I think it is a waste of time. Retailers should actually focus on what’s going on in the store at the time of the shop. Human associates who are properly trained can do a much better job of gauging customer attitudes and overall feelings. Social media outlets are compliments to in store services. It’s time to think outside ‘the circle’.

Dr. Emmanuel Probst
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Dr. Emmanuel Probst
9 years 7 months ago

Thanks to smartphones and social media platforms, there is no longer a divide between the brick and mortar experience and the click and mortar experience. Brands should leverage the hangout feature as a research, marketing and advocacy tool. However, brands must keep in mind that this feature is ‘just’ a channel to communicate with their audience; their focus must be on the quality of the content and the authenticity of the relationship they are creating.

Ben Sprecher
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Ben Sprecher
9 years 7 months ago
Measuring something changes it. I can’t imagine a less natural, less realistic way to gain insight into shopper perspectives than to put shoppers “on air” while shopping. We know from focus groups that what people say and even what people believe about themselves is often quite divergent from what they actually do; interposing a video audience into the shopping trip will complicate that situation by introducing a strong element of self-consciousness. Having someone narrate their shopping experience will create a totally unnatural shopping experience because the shopper will be saying what they think, rather than just shopping on instinct. When someone says “I care about green products” out loud to a video audience, it will likely impact the type of bathroom cleaner they pick up. Ordinarily, though, the shopper isn’t saying anything out loud, and they may simply be following the sale tags when making a selection. So the insights gained during those sessions will be distorted by the shoppers themselves. At the end of the day, a video-chat-captured shopping experience will tell you a… Read more »
Dan Berthiaume
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Dan Berthiaume
9 years 7 months ago

Real-time video chat can be an excellent viral marketing tool for retailers, but it can work both ways. A Google+ user with a lot of followers and online status mocking a retailer’s product selection in a live chat could do significant damage to its brand. Retailers will have to try to manage video chat in their stores as best they can.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Ben is right, so be prepared for a tsunami of digital Hawthorne effects.

We have all these new technologies but we insist on viewing them through traditional filters. We haven’t begun to understand the psychographics of people who agree to be “subjects” in this kind of exercise.

Just because we have the tools doesn’t mean we need to rush to use them — at least until we know the rules of the road.

Joshua Herzig-Marx
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Joshua Herzig-Marx
9 years 7 months ago

I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Paco Underhill, one of the most successful students of in-store shopping and purchase behavior. He did it, in large part, by figuring out how to surreptitiously observe shoppers in their natural habitat. I wonder what he’d think of the suggestion above.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

This sounds like a big bag of crazy to me. So I can vidchat with my daughter while I’m shopping, and have her comment on the lame or great items I’m considering buying, and I can publish it online? Why would I want to do that?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

To determine the value of this video research procedure, a study that also follows some of the same people on a shopping trip and matches their basket purchase with non-recorded shopping trips is necessary to answer some of the questions raised in these comments.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 7 months ago
Tenser’s Second Law of emerging media states: “Just because a thing is highly measurable doesn’t make it highly meaningful.” It’s certainly impressive that Google+ has worked out a way to enable and track group video chats. I’m still struggling to work out why users would want to do this. I’ll take it on faith that some people like having their locations tracked and their conversations shared in groups. I’m not a pod type of guy, so the issue here for me is whether Google believes it can aggregate enough micro-audiences to sustain a new kind of behavioral metric and/or advertising buy. It’s more plausible to me that some folks will value using white board, meeting chat and other remote office tools. But there is lots of competition for this – on Skype, Go to Meeting, Free Conference Call and others — so Google+ will need to present some superior attributes to make it attractive. Because it comes from Google, this innovation is interesting enough to merit discussion and consideration in this forum, but I’m still… Read more »
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