Blog: Ron Bowers 

Ron Bowers (bio)
SVP, Business Development
Frank Mayer & Associates

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Who is the connected consumer?

With a constant connection to the web and social media via a smart mobile device, the connected consumer is an informed shopper actively seeking the best value for a desired good.

With their own personal audience via the web and social media, they are an empowered group with a desire to feel appreciated by a retailer and in control.

What does this mean for retailers?

The connected consumer is a new challenge for retailers as power has shifted from the company to the consumer. With demands for a relevant, efficient and consistent experience for his/her own personal interests, and control over the conversation, retailers must provide the connected consumer a great shopping experience while merging both digital and in-store channels.

The consumer is engaged through digital technology before ever stepping foot in a store or looking at a catalog. It is possible that the first engagement isn’t facilitated by a retailer at all, but by a friend on social media. For this reason, marketers must have a strong digital strategy that enables consumer engagement across multiple channels and allows for a personalized interaction. Retailers should connect with consumers through various tactics such as emails, social media and in-store engagement while maintaining consistent brand identity and messaging.

To do this, retailers must understand the change in 1) how a customer shops, 2) how a customer makes in-store decisions, and 3) what the expectations of their customers are. The retailers must then develop a customized and distinct response to these questions as their digital strategy, and as a platform for merchandising.  

How does this relate to brick-and-mortar stores?

Merchandising for the connected consumerThe in-store experience is still a powerful aspect of the buyers’ journey even though the digital entity of retail has become fundamental to the entire consumer experience. To best serve the connected consumer while creating store traffic and greater brand loyalty, the in-store experience should act in unison with the retailers’ digital strategy.  

Knowing that the connected consumer utilizes technology to efficiently gain information and make a purchase decision, a sales associate no longer convinces a customer of a purchase. In fact, research shows that customers would rather use their own device followed by an unmanned device like a kiosk or tablet, before speaking to a sales associate to gather information in-stores¹. Thus, retailers should incorporate digital entities with the brick-and-mortar, or rather create an in-store shopping experience that utilizes technology and enables the consumer to stay connected.

The following are a few possible ways retailers can merchandize to the connected consumer in-stores:

Offer free in-store wifi

The consumer can stay connected while shopping.

A retailer has the opportunity to direct the consumer to the store website and current sales or product information after log in.

Utilize interactive kiosks and tablets

The consumer has access to a greater variety of products with expanded online inventory, and vast product information and reviews.

A retailer has greater advertising space with interchangeable digital displays specified to a department and the time of day while providing easy access to store information, online ordering, product information, and faster more efficient checkouts.  

Incorporate beacon technology, a low-cost device utilizing a Bluetooth signal to directly communicate with a customer’s smartphone.

The consumer can receive personalized and targeted notifications for specified products and departments based on their current store location.

A retailer can communicate loyalty programs, payments and current advertisements in real time to a customer.

¹ “The New Digital Divide” by Deloitte Digital (2014).

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Tuesday, 06 January 2015

Millennials controlling 70% of the spending power in the U.S. creates vast uncertainty amongst retailers; but with the strongest economy in years, optimism prevails as we begin 2015.

For many retailers, the Millennial consumer is an enigma: they are more suspicious of who to trust and yet, more likely to be influenced by apps and social media than any other generation. Only 19% of Millennials (versus 40% of Baby Boomers) say that, “generally speaking, most people can be trusted” (PewResearch). However, in order to make buying decisions, consumers look to a retailer’s online presence and social influence before considering a purchase.

This generation’s spending habits are moved by its self-paradox. Millennials are self-focused and at the center of their own global communications. It is vital for them to have a positive self-image while finding a sense of belonging when purchasing consumer goods. They desire self-preservation and a personal connection to a product or service.

So, what does this mean for retailers?

The heightened competition amongst store fronts and e-commerce will increase. Currently, roughly ¾ of consumers claim to showroom (Retail Future Trends 2015) or rather compare brands in order to receive the lowest price, best quality and/or widest selection of merchandise when shopping—many times without ever stepping foot in a store. This creates less in-store traffic and increased wavering among dominant brands. So, retailers must draw their target markets in through a strong online presence while providing feelings of exclusivity and individuality for a reasonable price.

To draw consumers into their store fronts, many retailers have begun incorporating various electronic capabilities; this includes the use of tablets, interactive kiosks and beacon technology. Tablets and interactive kiosks extend inventory past what can be offered in stores. The use of tablets has expanded into the retail environment to replace paper signage with digital advertising while providing sales associates quick and easy access to inventory, online ordering, product information and faster checkouts. Interactive Kiosks act in a similar way – allowing for added promotions through electronic ads specified to a department and the time of day. They also enable retailers to connect with consumers by blending in-store merchandising and virtual product displays. Beacon technology, on the other hand, provides the retailer with direct communication to the consumer and has the potential to completely change the in-store shopping experience by creating personalized and targeted marketing in real time. A beacon uses a Bluetooth signal to send special offers to nearby smartphones equipped with the store’s app. App users will receive targeted messages and deals while moving throughout the store.

Let’s say you’re shopping at a retailer equipped with these devices and have previously downloaded the store’s app. As you walk through the doors, your phone buzzes with an exclusive storewide discount. You wander into the home goods department and begin looking for a new blender when your phone alerts you of a sale on KitchenAid products. You can’t pass up the sale price and find the specified blender but are not happy with the color selections available in store. Scanning the product’s barcode at a nearby kiosk, you find additional product specifications, customer reviews and available colors. The color you’d like is available only online. No need to worry. Once your shopping is complete, you bring all of your selections to the nearby associate. They ring you up on their iPad and include the desired blender and ship it directly to your home.

As many stores have already begun implementing this technology, this experience won’t be a thing of the future for long. In fact, Macy’s has added 4,000 iBeacon devices nation-wide and provides coupons via this technology to customers who have downloaded ShopKick. They have also begun testing smart dressing rooms and an image search app. The smart dressing rooms have a wall-mounted tablet that allows customers to view various sizes and colors of a product while the image search app allows customers to snap a photo of an outfit or clothing item to find similar items on sale.

With these exciting advancements in technology, 2015 will be a year to watch how the in-store experience changes to accommodate the self-regarding Millennial. While it is clear that tech-enhanced stores offer an enriched shopper experience with benefits like improved productivity, inventory counts and use of store square footage, we have yet to determine exactly how to incorporate this technology so that it is most useful to each individual without overwhelming them.

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Thursday, 13 February 2014

If the buzz coming out of NRF 2014 is any indication, the timeline is advancing for the Internet of Things (IoT), and society is poised to reap the benefits of visionary technology.  As Bill Wasik, editor for Wired Magazine puts it, “In our houses, cars, and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.”

When considering the list of places where devices will talk to each other for the betterment of our experience, we must include retail. Through our involvement with the Internet of Things product displays for some early entrants we know that retailers will play a key role in making the possibilities of the IoT evident to consumers. Retail product displays will educate us about the hubs and apps available to control devices like thermostats, locks and, light bulbs with our phones – and of course the smart devices we can purchase and control. They will also sell us biofeedback devices that help us track our fitness and other kinds of wearables.                                                                                             

Estimates on tracking the explosion of the Internet of Things vary widely. ABI Research projects more than 30 billion devices worldwide will be wirelessly connected to the Internet by 2020, while analysts for Morgan Stanley predict the number will be 75 billion.

Initially consumers may be focused in on what it means to control devices in their homes or on their bodies. Increasingly they will reap the value that the IoT can bring to shopping where devices communicating with each other will make operations more efficient and in-store communications personally relevant. Some of the more noticeable benefits will accrue to:

Inventory Visibility

The tracking and more effective deployment of inventory has value that is highly visible to consumers since item location and availability have a direct impact on the ability to complete a purchase.  A study by WD Partners presented at NRF revealed that 79 percent of respondents felt “instant ownership” was the most appealing attribute of any retailer. Retailers will increasingly be able to provide up to the minute inventory availability for customers as they more effectively connect the digital to the physical and employ insights to improve their operations.

Shelf Replenishment

The connection of devices, processes and people makes possible innovations like smart shelves which can signal when they are getting empty, trigger restocking at the store level and communicate back through the supply chain.  Fewer out-of-stocks mean more satisfied customers.

Customer Engagement

Beacons that recognize the presence of mobile operating systems will usher in more finely targeted proximity marketing inside stores. Some retailers who have customer data tied to mobile apps are already doing this at the store level. In the Internet of Things, newer Apple and Android devices using Bluetooth Low Energy can intercept messages from beacons at the aisle or shelf level. Retailers must experiment and learn as they go from generalized to customized messaging, but when married with customer data and the requisite permission, they can deliver highly relevant messages and offers that may help forge closer relationships with customers. Indeed about half of online consumers say they are comfortable revealing personal information, if they get customized offers and rewards in return.

There were some technical conversations at NRF by people who have built their careers in the era of connectivity that went something like this: We are evolving from a time where the phone serves as the storehouse for myriad apps to one where the phone becomes, as mobile CEO Gary Schwartz phrased it, “an intelligent server interacting with the world of wireless signals” based on consumer preference.

The Internet of Things is poised to touch society on many levels from personal satisfaction and efficiencies to revenue improvements for businesses to real wealth creation.

This post originally appeared on Frank Mayer's blog.

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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Six degrees of separation is the theory that any two individuals could be connected through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. It is popularly used to espouse the concept that we occupy a small world. We borrowed that concept for a session at a recent Digital Screenmedia Association symposium that I moderated called "Six Degrees of Interactivity."

The Digital Screenmedia Association is all about connection. The DSA was created to bring the suppliers of interactive technologies like kiosks, mobile, digital signage, RFID, and NFC together so we could communicate and collaborate about how individual pieces combine to create a compelling experience around a product. The experience of connecting with a product or environment can set consumers on a path that leads to purchase and initiates a relationship that can lead to loyalty.

Lindsay Wadelton of AT&T Mobility shared how her company’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago has transformed the brand experience. It is hard to miss the eye-popping digital signage in the Explore Zone that highlights AT&T's diverse device lineup and accessories. At the same time, it’s the hands-on aspects of the new store that communicate the company is about more than just phones; they convey a connected mobile lifestyle of convenience and personal services.

The new Connected Experience Zone features "lifestyle vignettes" that highlight categories such as music, home security and entertainment and offer customers a glimpse of how solutions can be used in their everyday lives. The Community Zone features "community tables" that encourage customers to shop and play with apps, accessories and devices. The environments are set up for self-exploration or side-by-side interaction with store associates.

We also heard from Jared Schiffman, Founder and CEO of Perch Interactive, a start-up whose interactive table-top displays combine the benefits of online shopping with hands-on product exploration. Perch has offered Nordstrom a successful and innovative experience for their customer engagement. This solution encourages shoppers to touch and pick up products on display. When they do so, they get rewarded with information, animations and media that connect them more closely to the brand.

George Burciaga, CEO of elevate DIGITAL has reinvented the “billboard” through creating a multi-sensory outdoor touchscreen. Burciaga showed displays with large 46- to 55-inch touchscreens that offer not only hyperlocal deals for retailers within the vicinity, but a wealth of content, such as city and transportation information, news and attractions. A social element that allows consumers to take video and photos for sharing via Facebook or email enhances advertising impressions generated by the display.

All three presentations were developed independently. What was confirming for me was that all three touched on the same theme. Interactivity drives engagement, and consumers who engage with a product are more likely to buy a product, connect with the brand or service and create a loyalty relationship based on the interaction.

All three of these companies are targeting consumers who are looking for something beyond their desktops. When millennial shoppers engage they may seek a retail environment and assisted selling, but they are perfectly comfortable with self-navigation and decision-making how, when and where they want it.

The demand for the kinds of self-directed, multi-sensory product experiences showcased at the DSA symposium is here to stay, and we as an industry are poised to entice the next generation of shoppers into retail and out-of-home environments with exciting product displays that help them connect personally and socially with what is before them.


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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Having spent over twenty five years guiding retailers and brands into self-service solutions, it has been fun to reflect at the various industry events this winter on how we got to this multi-screen Modus operandi, which is fast becoming second nature. We’ve witnessed the evolution of desktop to kiosk, kiosk to mobile and digital signage to mobile. Consumers move freely among devices in planned and impulsive ways.

At the same time we’re experiencing this technology evolution; we’re also encountering a broadening of the applications for self-service.  We think this trend offers new opportunities for forward-thinking retailers, so there’s not much time for looking back.

A major self-service at retail theme is the enabling of shoppers to explore endless aisles and access the breadth of what the retailer has to offer. These are engagement solutions that empower customers in the store like shopping kiosks, gift registry kiosks, and interactive digital signage with expanded inventory visibility for categories from jewelry to shoes. They are all very intuitive uses for in-store self-service.

A second intriguing theme involves offering ancillary services that are a draw to busy, connected consumers. By providing frictionless ways for customers to accomplish life’s pleasurable and mundane tasks, self-service offerings can solidify the store as a destination and even encourage repeat visits. We think this aspect of self-service lends itself to some imaginative applications.

Here are three examples of how self-service can expand access, enable perpetual connection, and eliminate speed bumps for consumers:
Some big box retailers and pharmacies are recognizing the value of self-service health assessment like that offered by the SoloHealth Station® as a strategy for increasing footfall and sales. The value of certain Lifestyle types of screening, like weight and blood pressure is continuity, which plays right into traffic-building and loyalty-building objectives. Interactive, self-service kiosks are ideally suited to deliver targeted messages about Lifestyle brands in the store that have relevance to the assessments individuals are experiencing and can promote healthful living and incremental sales.

With the increased acceptance of the phone as a shopping assistant, there’s a realization that phone charging can be a real draw in most any retail setting. Consumers first encountered mobile charging stations like the Keo Connect charging and concierge kiosk in airports. Phone charging displays can come in many formats and their value can be extended when coupled with consumer information services, promotional programs, and advertising messages.

Retailers should also consider the traffic-building aspects of providing access to commonly used services. One of the early examples of this concept was self-service photo kiosks like the ones we produced for Sony and others. More recently we designed and produced a DMV in a Box kiosk for Intellectual Technology, Inc. that was placed in motor vehicle branches across the United States. It is not a stretch to think of partnerships that would place other kinds of convenient services in the retail environment.
Consumers form relationships with retailers that meet their needs and expectations in consistent and satisfying ways. Self-service has a role to play in helping stores with doors, deliver on that proposition not only for shopping – which we hope is mainly a pleasurable activity - but for services that make the store a logical and convenient destination to accomplish some of the mundane tasks that keep us all moving forward.

The ultimate test for the execution of self-service is being secured at retail presently. The connected consumers have made themselves heard and the majority of successful retailers are experimenting with ways to reduce their legacy silos, into Omni-channel solutions to offer their loyal consumers convenience, selection, and service when they want it, where they want it, the way they want it! In return retailers are finding consumers with a renewed exuberance for loyalty, bordering on evangelism for the retail brand!
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Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Despite superstorm Sandy’s best efforts to make it a wash-out, attendees of Customer Engagement Technology World carried on with a show-must-go-on attitude appropriate for New York on November 7th and 8th. CETW is a bi-annual industry event focused on leveraging the integration of emerging media technology across multiple channels to activate customer engagement.

I was privileged to be asked by the Digital Screenmedia Association to chair a discussion titled "Social Media, Kiosks and Mobile: Omni-channel Convergence to Maximize Customer Engagement." Our panel consisted of Greg Clore, Vice President of Information Technology at restaurant and entertainment company Dave and Buster’s, Inc.; Cory Keen, Retail Programs, Kiosk & Mobility Technology Manager, at retailer Cabela’s Inc.; and Ray Rotolo, Chief Operating Officer at out-of-home advertising company Posterscope.

The overriding theme of our discussion was that businesses skillfully embracing mobile, kiosks, and social media are the ones focused not on stand-alone engagement but cohesive customer experience. To the extent that we can deliver as a point of purchase industry not only to brand and retailer objectives but to the positive experience of the consumer we can be partners in building loyalty.

The omni-channel strategy tracks customers across all channels. All shopping channels work from the same retailer database of products, pricing, promotions, and engagements. As Wikipedia says best, “Instead of perceiving a variety of touch-points as part of the same brand, omni-channel retailers let consumers experience the brand, not a channel within a brand. Merchandise and promotions are not channel specific, but rather consistent across all retail channels.”

Greg Clore’s presentation illustrated how Dave and Buster’s uses guest-facing technologies that not only communicate their product and services but deliver on the excitement of the Dave and Buster’s brand. Their multiple channels include a website, kiosks, digital signage, self-service POS, an online digital guide, and numerous ways to engage via mobile and social media.

The central theme that Greg has integrated into Dave & Buster’s guest experience is the use of technology-enhanced engagement - not just multi-channel touch points.  D&B has focused on the omni-channel engagement of the guest’s personal experience integrated through D&B’s Loyalty Program, Power Cards, and Experience Redemptions in the restaurant and entertainment venue. The experience is enabled by the customer when they want it, where they want it, and the way they want it! Launching this week will be the New Mobile Wallet: Register Powercards, Register Credit Cards, D&B Location Services, and Guest-selected Promotions.

Cory Keen addressed Cabela’s strategy of becoming “channel-less.” Cabela’s brand experience has one face - because customers expect one look and feel - but access across multiple channels. The retailer has empowered customers to do channel-less shopping with mobile apps that include bar code scanning and enable pricing transparency, online ordering through in-store kiosks and an order online/pick-up in store service.

Cabela’s is a leader in instituting corporate commitment to the omni-channel message of consistency across all channels and finding ways to remove the “silos mentality” through inter- department communication and collaboration! This orientation begins at the core engagement point; the in-store outfitters are empowered to match prices and create an omni-channel consistency to meet the demands of the Cabela’s customer. Their strategy encompasses empowered outfitters, price transparency between channels, and corporate training for omni-channel development.

Keen acknowledged that customer expectations are “growing extremely fast.” It is essential to keep taking a pulse through their Voice of the Customer survey. Cabela’s has implemented mobility feedback and studies for multiple mobile platforms that will allow their loyal customers a readily available forum.

Ray Rotolo of Posterscope noted that people are connected to their devices, but they are also members of “dynamic connected cultures” through their social interactions. Thus, the drivers of the out-of-home business are both supply side innovation through mobile and digital technologies and demand side adoption by consumers.

This industry dynamic is creating new demands and opportunities for brands and media owners in four key dimensions:
  • Content - Understanding what people want and how they want it.
  • Space - Understanding how best to create experiences that capitalize on the increasing “location neutral fluidity” of people’s lives.
  • Community – Understanding how to leverage social media to help people connect and share.
  • Commerce – Understanding how to move consumers closer to purchase especially using search.
Consumers are forming relationships with those retailers who not only understand the technology but are using it to meet their rapidly evolving consumer expectations in a consistent and satisfying way.  There is room for a finite number of close relationships with brands and retailers in our fluid lives and those who embrace convergence have a better chance of being on the winning end. Kudos to CETW and DSA for facilitating this movement!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 04:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Given the increased importance of mobile as a shopping tool, and as our “concierge” for other essential tasks, it is natural to ask what this trend means for the future of traditional kiosks. Some have posed the question in headline-grabbing fashion.
It is a very human tendency to evaluate new technologies in a win/lose, either/or fashion given the pace of change. When the Digital Screenmedia Association issued its report Self-Service Future Trends 2011 almost a year ago, some industry watchers speculated on the demise of the kiosk with the ascendancy of mobile capabilities. At the time, I pegged the use of kiosks and mobile in combination as an adroit maneuver that could pay off for deployers and provide a better experience for consumers. Over the last year, I’ve seen plenty of evidence to back that up.
In the same way industries are aiming toward having all channels working together seamlessly, all forms of media need to work together to support marketing objectives. Kiosks can still stand alone, but mobile can point the consumer toward a kiosk, enhance the kiosk experience, and add portability to the concept.
Using Mobile to Point to the Kiosk
Mobile tactics can be used to attract users to a kiosk. In-store rewards program Shopkick allows shoppers to accumulate points via an application running on their phones. Shoppers can get points just for visiting different sites within a store and scanning items. With mobile check-in applications like Shopkick, a bar code can be used to increase awareness and trial of a kiosk.
Though in its infancy, the technology exists in various forms to send location-based messages to draw shoppers to a specific point in the store. That location doesn’t have to be a product; it can be an interactive solution.
Enhancing the Kiosk Experience
The proliferation of mobile usage makes the channel impossible to ignore. The development of customer-facing kiosk applications should increasingly call for consideration of a mobile strategy. Two industries where we see mobile and kiosks complementing each other are grocery and hospitality. Some grocery chains, for example, are integrating loyalty information and coupons that can be accessed on kiosks or mobile phones by allowing customers to use their mobile phone number as their loyalty number. The hospitality industry is exploring the use of kiosks for check-in and allowing guests to begin a process on their phones that culminates at the kiosk.
Making the Kiosk Portable
The consumer’s view of what constitutes self-service has expanded and is driving the solutions that get developed. It now seems intuitive that a wayfinding kiosk emails directions to a user’s smartphone. A health information kiosk enables users to access saved information on their personal account via smartphone. 
Frankly, we need to acknowledge that the definition of kiosk has expanded with the popularity of tablets for retail use. They can be incorporated into countertop units, affixed to walls and shelves, and mounted on tablet PC display stands that add portability. 
Customer-facing technology, whether available on a kiosk or a mobile device ultimately serves the same purpose – to provide information and drive decision-making. We’re much more likely to operate in a world where devices converge than in a single-device ecosystem. The real question is not whether one channel displaces another but how they can come together to meet the expectations of consumers.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 10:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 06 December 2011
Has Retail Confidence Turned the Corner?

"American consumers have been taking a deep breath and making a decision that it’s OK to go shopping again," NRF Vice President Ellen Davis has declared. If the results of Black Friday weekend through Cyber Monday are any indication, consumers have exhaled and given themselves permission.

Spurred by heavy promotion and earlier openings, retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend rose 16.4%; shoppers spent 9.1% more per person than last year, and sales hit $52 billion compared to $45 billion last year, according to NRF. This is higher than the average increase for November and December over the past 10 years. If correct, this would indicate a continued retail recovery that began last year after holiday sales fell the previous two years. NRF has posted that the earlier store openings on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, while easy to condemn, were actually very well received by time-crunched consumers and retailers trying to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, online shopping continues to win over millions of Americans this holiday season, with a record number hitting websites on Cyber Monday.

Retailers and brands are courting the consumer with discounts and offers, but what happens next? They will get a short-term return on their investment, but those focused on long-term engagement will be best positioned for the future. Retailers and brands that use the promise of self-service technology and social media to empower customers will create relationships that keep shoppers coming back when the holiday hype has modulated. Quite simply, the challenge of retail technology deployment goes beyond return on investment to include return on engagement.

At Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW) recently, I was honored to chair an insightful discussion centered on the importance of Return on Engagement vs. Return on Investment. It was led by three of the most respected and recognized B2C industry voices: Danna Vetter, vice president of consumer strategies for ARAMARK; Jennifer Nye, marketing and brand management strategist for Kohler Company; and Laura Davis-Taylor, SVP, managing director at ShopWork BBDO.

Danna Vetter  Jennifer Nye  Laura Davis-Taylor
Vetter              Nye                 Davis-Taylor

Looking beyond the economic metric of ROI to the behavioral metric of ROE, Laura Davis-Taylor focused our discussion by asking the questions:
  • How has technology altered the traditional shopping path?
  • How are smart retailers responding?
  • What brands are serving as inspirational examples for others to follow?
How do Self-Service Technology and Social Media Inform What Happens Next?

I think we can all agree there is no longer just a traditional shopping path but many paths to purchase facilitated by mobile and social technology. Mobile helps consumers shop across all channels. Social media gives shoppers context and community, enlisting friends virtually in discovery and purchase decisions. These technologies work hand in hand to facilitate the kind of engagement that can turn trial and purchase into loyalty and evangelism.

Consumers have been a beacon for retailers, rapidly adopting mobile and social platforms to empower their shopping. Smart retailers are those who aren’t afraid to experiment to find out what works for their customers across retail environments. The retailers that will best use social shopping in their marketing are not just talking at, but are listening to, consumers and adapting what they’re delivering based on consumer response and interactions. This is engagement, defined by Wikipedia as: "the repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand."

How a customer experiences a retailer or brand is no longer just within her head or with those in the immediate vicinity. The consumer has become the reviewer, the broadcaster, and the brand advocate. Marketers can remain passive in this remodeled environment or they can facilitate behavior and try to harness its power. These could be the best of times or the worst of times for brands and retailers that don’t heed the consumer’s acceptance of the engagement shopping model. Brands like Starbucks, that understand the opportunity offered by the new Facebook model of streaming content and encourage social media sharing through their in-store merchandising and mobile applications, are leading the way on one end of the spectrum. Walmart is far ahead as it develops an application that facilitates social sharing through impromptu communities. Customers will ultimately be able to engage in-store via their phones with other shoppers, asking and answering questions, seeking and giving opinions on products and deals.

As discussed at CETW, the way we deliver customer interaction is evolving, and the only limit to what technology can do is our imagination and retail implementation. The focus should be on breaking down the bricks and mortar between customer and retailer and engaging in a two-way dialogue aided by emerging digital media and in-store self-service interactive solutions. We need to incorporate this new model into our planning and development. The challenge of a deployment should not be just return on investment, but return on engagement as well.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 08:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
As the old song goes, "To start at the very beginning is a very good place to start…" It seems reasonable for those of us in the industry to expect clients who approach us to have gone through some linear process to define objectives, requirements and a budget for their interactive and digital merchandising project, but it isn’t always the norm. Many clients know most of what they want but have a hard time defining what it is they need.
The in-store merchandising industry has changed over the last decade. The initiation of a kiosk, mobile or digital signage program is a more collaborative effort than it used to be. Projects may cut across merchandising, marketing, purchasing, information technology, operations and customer experience departments. Each of these functions brings a unique perspective on planning and execution.
At the same time, all parties need a budget framework that puts everyone on the same page. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, in his book Winning, called budgeting "the most effective process in management."
Managers dream about harmonized expectations and streamlined procedure, but there is a whole road of decision-making that organizations must travel before reaching that plane. You’ve probably noticed that many clients who approach you are at different stages of planning.
Sometimes clients are reluctant to talk about a budget. They express the notion that to fully disclose a budget will place them at a disadvantage. I think this is a counterproductive mindset. In reality a good retail merchandising company approaches a project saying, "How can we best meet the objectives and needs of this client within the framework of their budget?" rather than "How can we maximize the revenue from this project?" The client’s selection of a creative, industry-recognized company, one with financial stability and collaborative experience that has created a number of successful industry solutions, should instill confidence. 
Other times client team members may be in the position of launching their very first interactive project. They must overcome the hurdle not only of knowing the answers but knowing the right questions to ask. It is our first responsibility to aid the client in understanding that there are a number of factors influencing the success or failure of any creative endeavor and to communicate that, "You don’t know what you don’t know." It is the responsibility of the interactive and digital merchandising partner to help flush out all the caveats that the client will need to protect against.
We have developed a preliminary checklist of 10 questions that can lead clients who have not yet done so to the point of arriving at requirements and a budget. The questions below seem straightforward enough, but there are many considerations that inform the answers.
1) What are the primary objectives?
2) Who is the target user?
3) Where will units be placed?
4) How many units will be deployed?
5) What are the size requirements?
6) How long will the unit be in the field?
7) What key hardware features do your objectives dictate?
8) Has a software application been developed?
9) What look and feel do you want your solution to have?
10) What are the installation, support and maintenance requirements?
A successful interactive display or kiosk has its genesis in a fully transparent consultative partnership between the client, the partners involved and the in-store merchandising company. Answering these questions establishes a solid foundation for a project and a sure footing for the relationships.
The reality is all of us strive to give the best advice and the best service to our customers, whatever their orientation, but wouldn’t it be great if we were all singing from the same place in the songbook. Collaboration and trust between the interactive merchandising company and the client is the single greatest indicator of project success. It is our responsibility as an industry to engage frankly with our clients and offer them the success they deserve!
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 09:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Friday, 07 October 2011
I just returned from the Display and Design Ideas, DDI Forum 2011, in Boston. DDI is the presenter of GlobalShop, the largest annual U.S. tradeshow for the store design, visual merchandising and in-store retail marketing industries.

The Forum is the retail industry's premier annual executive decision-maker's event. The event allows participants to discuss in a non-competitive, open forum the state of retail and issues that are affecting consumer buying habits.

A key takeaway is the economy is a factor but less of a concern than last year. The majority of retailers are expanding or preparing to expand the number of stores and redesigns for their existing stores. As I was told by the retail experience executive for one of the top three grocers, "We are preparing for growth and working hard to find efficiency in our growth process. We are buying competitors' stores that are downsizing and upgrading these stores to fit our brand experience!"

The theme of "How can we ramp up for the coming consumer demand?" was constant throughout the Forum. A number of the sessions discussed how technology has become the catalyst to accomplish this at the store level. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the retail innovators are describing the efforts they are targeting. They are not discussing scanners, printers, digital signage, kiosks, or QR codes as the answer; they are discussing how technology will enable better consumer engagement within their stores!

The overriding discussion centered on the fact that technology is not the end point; technology is one tool to make the consumer's experience at retail engaging, scalable, and unique to the retailers brand. It is this brand equity that creates the experience that leads to trial, loyalty, and hopefully consumer evangelism for the brand.

As I listened, I was reminded of James Crawford's very exciting and insightful presentation on the intersection of Technology and Store Design given at a different event, the International Retail Design Conference in Toronto, Canada. With his permission, I'd like to share some excerpts:

The 6 "Dos and Don'ts of Technology Enabled Design:

Don't let your competition design your shopping experience.

Designers are used to thinking of the in-store experience as self-contained and in their control. No matter what influences a 21st century shopper may have been under OUTSIDE the store (marketing/advertising, ecommerce, social media, etc.); once they step into the store, they're free of those influences. That's simply no longer the case, as competitors can (and do) connect with shoppers at the store shelf using tools like Amazon's mobile app... This leaves retailers with a simple choice: step up and create a better mobile enabled shopping experience that keeps the shopper engaged with the brand both physically and electronically... or cede half the shopping experience to competitors.

Do start thinking of yourself as an experience designer.

...The future of "store design" is taking the shopping experience and expanding the engagement points beyond the physical elements of the store. Store designers must embrace a future where their "designs" are experiences that engage the shopper cross channel at home, on the go, and in the store... not just physical elements within the store itself.

Don't think technology use is (too) generational.

It's far too easy to dismiss technology as something that only the youngest generation of shoppers embraces, and therefore not relevant to "our target shoppers." The truth is that shoppers of virtually all demographics are rapidly adopting new technologies into their lives, and retailers that dismiss incorporating technology into their store experiences run the risk of being perceived as increasingly irrelevant by ALL their shoppers, not just the young ones...

Remember that 50 percent of shoppers will be carrying Smartphone's in 2012.

The window of opportunity for retailers to take a "leading edge" or even "fast follower" role in embracing mobile technology is closing rapidly. Ecommerce players like Amazon and Zappos already have strong mobile strategies in place, and retailers deploying mobile solutions will quickly see the perception of their innovation shift from thought-leader to also-ran...

Consider a trip to Japan for inspiration.

While examples abound all over the world of retailers who are "doing it right" with store design, Japan alone has the unique advantage of a very well evolved mobile infrastructure. Near ubiquity (and universal compatibility) of Smartphone's that can read a single barcode standard, display information, and even allow payment means that shoppers in Japan are simply more used to using their pho's nes in the shopping process than any other single market...

Don't be afraid to take risks; this is the time to experiment.

There is no right or wrong answer to technology-enabled store design, and what will benefit retailers the most right now is the willingness and ability to experiment and make (controlled) mistakes. The bottom line is that there are many new shopping patterns and dynamics emerging, and taking advantage of these new shopping ideas requires trying new things, measuring the results, and deploying those that work...

Crawford's message was clear: Retail is embracing the intersection of technology and store design not for the sake of new technology but for how it can be another tool that is combined with well thought-out marketing and merchandising strategy. The result is the effective creation of elegant customer-centric engagement solutions in the store.
Posted by: Admin AT 01:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
There are more than a handful of concerns keeping retail marketers up at night. Two prime ones are how to drive traffic to stores and how to keep customers engaged and in-store long enough to make purchases. Successful retailers are seeing the value of mobile devices to help achieve these aims.
Though this may be an "a-ha" moment for some, it should not come as a revelation that providing a mobile charging station for customers will facilitate their shopping and may keep them in the store longer. In a shopping center or shopping mall environment, it is also a traffic driver.
Customers no longer enter the store as white pages waiting for store employees to fill in the blanks with helpful product details. They've researched at home online or en route on their phones. They may respond to a location-based offer from Shopkick while in the aisle. They're using third party applications like Shop Savvy and Red Laser to compare prices while on site. They may even be scanning bar codes on products and displays for information. Social shoppers are posting their latest finds on Facebook or sending photos to friends for a second opinion.
Mobile shoppers are increasingly using their devices for sales assistance, and most everyone mastered the art of shopping and talking about a decade ago. The longer someone is in the store, especially within a shopping mall, the more apt they are to lose their treasured connectivity to a dead battery.
Device charging is a near universal need. We aren't just talking about the teenager whose entertainment is spending the afternoon shopping with friends. We may well be talking about the working mother who finally gets a few moments to meet some personal needs but must stay in touch with her family. Then there's the DIY guy who researched a project before going to the home center but can't access the notes and links on his phone because it just ran out of juice.
Airport retailer Hudson News and KEO Connect, LLC, were the first to recognize the value of providing a free phone charging information kiosk to travelers, some of the most mobile-dependent among us. The KEO unit's unique combination of interactive touch screens allows travelers to learn about news, weather, their destinations, hotels, restaurants, and car rentals. Travelers immediately engage with information at the point of interest while their phone, hand held game, or iPod is being charged in one of several locked and secure self-service compartments in the kiosk.
The Hudson News customer can shop and grab that bottle of water and magazine while not having to guard an exposed mobile device in a busy airport! Not only is the phone itself safe, the data on the phone is completely secure. The unit is designed so there is no danger of the phone being "juice jacked" while recharging. There are no data paths between the handset and the host computer.
The ROI of quick, safe and secure phone charging should be even more demonstrable for retailers who serve less time-constrained customers. The incorporation of digital signage and touch screen technology can showcase products and offers that compel leisurely customers to browse and buy while their phones are being revived. Think too of the traffic-driving advantage of being the mall store that offers free charging.
Charging device technology has advanced. With a secure kiosk, it is no longer necessary to plug in and stare at your phone like the proverbial watched pot, while making sure it doesn't walk away. The unique pin number that the customer assigns to the charging compartment opens and closes a secure bay, leaving the user free to roam.
The charging station is a way for retailers to provide a great customer experience.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 04:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 27 June 2011
Smartphones are making people smarter, and they’re being used less as phones every day. People are using their mobile devices to simplify the tasks of daily life, and smart shopping is high on the list.

That much was obvious last week at the Mobile Marketing Association Forum, held in New York. One of the panels that drew high interest centered on how consumers are using mobile devices not just to buy goods and services but to find stores, contact businesses and make informed decisions prior to making a purchase at the traditional point of sale.

The results of a Google-commissioned study, The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users, revealed the following about U.S. smartphone owners:
•58 percent use their devices to go online daily
•70 percent using them while in-store
•74 percent make a purchase as a result of information obtained via their phone

People who are using smartphones to shop are being converted to purchase either in-store, online or even on their phones. There are numerous paths, and in-store merchandising and mobility are destined to become more closely linked, because engagement across channels and media has become commonplace and expected by consumers. Consumers want a seamless experience between online at home, on their mobile device and in the store.

At the Forum, John Hadl, CEO of Brand in Hand, shared his insights that, at the core, mobile satisfies the consumer’s desire to self-promote, look good and get information that helps him make decisions, engage in commerce, maintain relationships and be entertained.

Some of these desires are fulfilled when consumers interact on their phones with digital signage. Others will be fulfilled when they grab information viewed on a kiosk via text message or when they scan a 2-D bar code and link to it on their mobile device. Mobile lends connectivity and portability to a time-strapped consumer.

Consumer behavior is evolving rapidly. Retailers and brands readily admit they do not have strategies and tactics figured out yet. The message from panelists at the Forum was that retailers should test, learn, refine and test again. Marketers are working to find out what consumers want, when they want it and where they want it.

If we are to serve our clients well, we must be along on this journey with them. We as an industry need to facilitate the education and serve as an advocate for our clients. Kiosks and digital signage are activating media for the integrated cross-channel marketing programs for brands and retailers. We must be attuned to their strategies and keep track of shopper activity to engage consumers the way they want to be engaged.

The result of successful engagement is trial; the result of successful trial is loyalty. The end result of brand loyalty is a relationship that allows the customer to have input. When successful, you have created an evangelist for your brand!

The path to purchase will not be solely facilitated by mobile technology or another technology medium; it will be aided by mobile and the engagement of merchandising solutions we have created for retail, often working in tandem. This offers today’s consumers the opportunity for a true one-to-one relationship at retail.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 01:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  
Tuesday, 03 May 2011

The economic downturn has permanently changed the way consumers shop. More shopping trips begin online and at in-store kiosks, and price comparisons and coupon searches are even more common. Coupled with the social media explosion and breakthrough interest in mobile shopping, 2011 is poised to be the year e-commerce convergence moves from the sidelines to the heart of a retailer's strategic cross-channel-execution.

Retail technology solutions are at a major tipping point, paradigm shift or whatever game-changing catch phrase applies.

"The use of multi-touch technology allows the kiosk designer to make the system an extension of what people have with them every day," said Gene Halsey, director of Product Line for Touch Revolution, a projected capacitive touch-screen manufacturer. "By integrating the experience of Smartphones with the interface of multi-touch, kiosks now become as natural and easy to use as the fastest growing consumer products in recent memory."
There are a multitude of benefits to the multi-touch technology, many of which focus on the user experience. Taken together, these elements result in more-informed, more-efficient and more-engaging interaction.

Key elements to a multi-touch "gesture experience"

Familiar Interface
The familiar interaction of a smartphone touchscreen lends itself to redefining the user interface. If you know that the person walking up to the screen will know what to do when he touches the screen – you don't need to design large buttons or other "old" interface characteristics in the software. You can also place icons in such a way that people naturally think they are using their mobile devices. The kiosk then becomes an extension of what people have with them every day. This is a radically different way to think about kiosk design.

The projected capacitive technology also provides the ability to add multi-touch to the interface. Now adding familiar gestures to the interface is possible when designing content. It is natural to "swipe a finger" across the screen to flip the page. It's natural to "draw a circle" with a finger to scroll through options or "pinch a picture" to make the image larger. This frees the user from next-page icons, scroll bars and zoom buttons. The result is an opportunity to create content that is dynamic and fun to use.

"Today, the rules have changed and the power has shifted," said Brian Ardinger, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Nanonation. "Luckily, today's technologies like digital signage, kiosks and mobile will be key factors in engaging customers and differentiating offerings. These technologies will create the in-store experiences that resonate with today's consumer."

Clean, industrial design
Removing the front bezel from the monitor allows multiple design and installation alternatives. A multi-touch monitor can be embedded into the wall or other flat surface. Imagine creating a kiosk in a countertop. When visiting home improvement stores, customers can use interactive content within the kitchen design center layout — not at a stand-alone kiosk — but actually embedded in the kitchen product display.

Without the bezel on the monitor, it is possible to create interactive-video spaces within traditional retail environments. Monitors can be tiled together to create content that is bigger than a single monitor — without a concern about the interruption to the visual continuity caused by the bezel.

Multi-user options
The natural extension of multi-touch screens is the ability for multiple users to touch the same screen. This accommodates a system design with four different screen regions built around different information. Each of those regions can now be active at the same time —in essence creating four kiosks out of one screen. Systems become playful — one person can flick images across the screen to another. Another interesting option is to design games for multiple people to play in amusement situations. Imagine an amusement park with way-finding stations that can switch to a game station that the whole family can use. The traditional amusement kiosk game "one-trick" pony can now be a multi-function device that can do things that weren't possible only a couple of years ago.

When the entire surface of the touch monitor is glass, the kiosk cleanliness factor improves significantly. No longer are there dust collectors and crevices all around the surface of the touch area that need to be constantly cleaned. Customers and employees don't have to worry about the grease that has visibly collected around the bezel when you put the self-service ordering kiosk in the fast food restaurant. It is very difficult to keep dirt and grease out of old bezels. Take away the bezel — take away the place for that junk to collect.

A projected capacitive monitor can be put in a range of places that weren't practical for touch input in the past. Even with surface damage, the projected-capacitive screen continues to work. Even at the extreme case of breaking the cover glass, the screen can continue to work. It becomes a different definition of uptime for the machine operator. It reduces concern about machines going down as often. Many people have dropped iPhones in the past and continued to use them for days, weeks or even months before getting sensors replaced. The same can now be true for the public-use interactive kiosks.

Focus on the user experience
According to Forrester Research, the public now spends as much time on the Internet as watching television. This behavior is facilitated, in part, by the use of mobile phones. Adults are just as likely to have a mobile phone as a computer.

Price Waterhouse Coopers studied post recession shoppers In "The New Consumer Behavior Paradigm: Permanent or Fleeting" and found that retailers must leverage their marketing, merchandising and positioning to push their offerings that are "need to haves" and build a case for the "must haves." Although most people rely on cell phones in their everyday lives, this is a tall order in the context of a 2-inch screen. This goal is attainable when elements are integrated and retailers employ a variety of digital media, kiosks and in-store merchandising.

This brings us to the real success at retail — collaboration across channels. Consumers post The Great Recession are looking for trust relationships with retailers. They are guarding their resources and have changed their shopping paradigm to a direction that is more selective and targeted. It is generally THE BRAND that has brought consumers back to the shopping environment. It is THE EXPERIENCE at retail that builds loyalty and will keep them coming back.

Consumers are expecting that all contacts with the brand, across channels, on-line, in-store or in-hand will be consistent and coordinated. They are expecting their needs and brand access to be met without limitations on a particular channel. The "BRAND" means more today than it did as little as just three years ago, and it encompasses all the interactions — digital and physical — that consumers have with retailers. Consumers have finally embraced the true success of the retail shopping experience, The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!

A strong retail kiosk merchandising company can successfully marry the key elements of brand marketing, customer interaction, design, engineering and technology. The product of collaboration and experience in all of these areas is far more important than the features or price of an individual piece of technology. Paco Underhill, in "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," warns not to "get lost in the technology." It isn't the individual ingredients but the strategy of the whole that produces a winning solution.

In analyzing the results of their study, The Customer Centric Store 2010, RSR found that the No. 1 opportunity in the current market is to refine the customer's in-store experience. And the No. 1use of in-store technology, identified by 76 percent of retailers was to "maintain and/or improve the customer experience."

Interactive merchandising, whether delivered by a kiosk, an iPad app or digital signage, is no longer an add-on option for the early adapter. It is a crucial differentiator in the retail setting.

All retailers and brands have access to the same marketing, merchandising and technology resources. It is the savvy and experience with which they employ these means to create awareness, satisfy and delight consumers, and convert shoppers into loyal buyers that will translate to success.

Critical Takeaway Tips

  • The kiosk is an extension of the consumer's experience in the retailer's store. The design of the kiosk needs to reflect the "brand" that is the retailer and offer a "call to action," an engagement, that is consistent with the retailer's marketing and merchandising strategy. The EXPERIENCE is the BRAND!
  • The software interface must be designed for the multi-touch experience and leverage all the potential intuitive tendencies of the consumer's interaction. If the software is not engaging the gesture interface intuitiveness and flexibility, why use the multi-touch screen?
  • Projective capacitive multi-touch is the logical choice for retail or any consumer interactive self-service deployment. Cost, flexibility and longevity can deliver a generous ROI.
Posted by: Ron Bowers AT 08:37 am   |  Permalink   |  
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