Digital in-store experiences: Thoughts from Blend Web Mix

December 24, 2014

Last month I spoke at Blend Web Mix, an exciting conference about all things Web with a broad audience than spanned developers, designers and entrepreneurs. Very much the French equivalent of SXSW, there were many interesting presentations about up and coming trends in Web technologies and digital marketing.

One of the talks was particularly interesting and relevant, and I’d like to share my notes about this topic, along with my own thoughts and discussions to push the discussion further. Given by Francois le Pichon, it was called “Five trends for digital in-store experiences in 2015″ and focused on how the Web of Things will impact the physical, in-store shopping experience in the next few years.

digital in-store experiences at Blend Web Mix

In a nutshell, the presentation highlighted the fact that most digital in-store experiences today are merely a big screen or iPad that displays information; but that there is much more to think about and explore to create a whole new generation of digital interactions with physical products, especially as technologies are maturing and now ripe for prime time.

Trend 1: Experience & Emotion

At the end of the day, a happy visitor in a shop equates to a happy paying customer. Unlike an airport – which is designed for functionality and implementing legislation (for example, passport control, body & luggage scanners) – a shop has much more latitude to prioritize feelings over function. Various studies show that a positive product and shopping experience can turn a passer-by into a long-term customer. So two angles to rethink when designing in-store experiences are: first, where do we put the devices and digital manifestations of a product, and second – what are the best touch-points for digital product experiences? We should explore multi-modal experiences for products, not just displays but especially sound, smell, touch – which can often be more visceral and create a deeper, longer-lasting feeling.

A great example of including the physical environment into a digital campaign is Ourworks’ “blowing in the wind” campaign, where sound sensors detected a train coming and the display would show a video of a woman’s hair being blown by the wind. Simple and only a display, but the way it included real-world, contextual information (sound of the metro coming), certainly created a lasting impression for commuters.

Trend 2: Wearables & Virtual Reality

As shown by Apple jumping on the wearables train and Facebook into virtual reality (with the Oculus Rift acquisition in March), the Internet of Things is becoming more personal, intimate, and realistic – and the barrier between what is real and what is not will be increasingly blurred. Leveraging these trends represents a huge opportunity for physical shops, where the best of both of worlds can be leveraged to provide a deeper relationship with customers.

Wearables are introducing a whole new media to explore novel in-shop experiences, as new interaction paradigms can be designed for wearables, both when shop employees and customers wear them. An interesting example was Virgin Atlantic employees using Google Glasses to scan passengers’ tickets and immediately seeing informations about the passenger, their flight, real-time delays and arrivals, seating information and dietary requirements.

A New York fashion retailer used Oculus Rift VR kits in their shops as a stunt that allowed customers to see the latest fashion shows in real-time through someone sitting on the first row (allegedly Kate Moss!). To learn more about wearables and how they’ll disrupt the Web of Things, download EVRYTHNG’s wearables white paper.

Trend 3: Omnichannel & Social Networks

Consumers increasingly want to be recognized across multiple channels and interfaces (physical shops, social media, or eCommerce websites) in a seamless way. Consumer opt-in is key to making this work: retailers need to avoid the creepy feeling of being tracked and watched, to assure the consumer of the security and privacy of their information, and to avoid irritating loyal customers by pushing them offers that either aren’t relevant, or that they haven’t opted into (see Trend 4 below!).

As such, it’s critical to reach consumers using a high degree of personalization. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to buy products that have positive feedback from other consumers – for example, Amazon reviews – and particularly when the recommendation comes from a friend, or friend of a friend. Connecting social networks and the product graph (which of your friends bought which product) will therefore play an increasing role in digital shopping, as well as feeding into the design of physical shopping experiences.

Trend 4: Beacon technology

Currently, most beacon-based applications are limited because they require you to run a specific application on your phone; furthermore, most iBeacons use cases are around pushing (often unsolicited) ads to consumers. When advertising company Titan placed hundreds of iBeacons in phone booths around New York and created a network that tracked consumer movement around the city, their failure to issue any public notification, or seek consultation or approval for their project, led to widespread outrage, and ultimately the failure of the initiative.

A much better use case for beacon technology is to use them to provide additional information based on location – for example, navigation or application interfaces that change according to where you are in a museum or shop, and add more interesting layers of interactivity over physical places (for example, adding user-generated content to works of arts in a museum, or creating digital treasure hunts).

Trend 5: Analytics & CRM

Today, “digital” for most brands means data, analytics, and CRM; but there’s an increasing interest in gathering and layering on data on the real-world activity happening in shops – where users come from, who stays and what they buy.

The real challenge for brands is to understand the value of digital: is it just about tracking users? Or perhaps, understanding those users? For a brand to adopt a large-scale digital strategy, it needs to clearly understand how it will enable better communication with customers, leading to improved targeting and communications that deliver increased sales.

It is clear that the large majority of customers (70%, according to Forbes) are willing to provide demographic information in exchange for discounts or special purchasing privileges. In other words, provided the right incentives are in place, everything can be sold; particularly when the privileges go beyond a simple financial transactions to offer a higher form of value, like making a donation to charity, getting more out of products, or offering personalization.

Summary

Digital marketing in 2015 means so much more than sending 10% off coupons blindly through newsletters or social media, or worse: bulky and boring screens tracking your movement to send you impersonal and unsolicited spam.

The future of digital marketing lies in the ability to forge long-lasting and deeper connection with your customers in a transparent, seamless, and engaging manner. It means knowing your customers: their preferences, and behaviour, with a much finer granularity than ever before, in order to better serve their needs. It means genuinely connecting with them in real time and across multiple channels, particularly around emerging technologies as a means of enabling a whole new range of interaction paradigms and functionality, which, in turn, lead to stronger emotional links between your brands and consumers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dominique Guinard

Dominique Guinard

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