Blog: Ron Bowers 

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

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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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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