Digital Transformation Insights

Sun, 15 Mar 2015

Digital In-Store Presences Demystified

By Mukund Balasubramanian, Co-founder & CTO, Photon

The last few years have seen an explosion of Mobile Apps for almost everything you can imagine, resulting in the slogan “there is an app for that” across the industry. This has been true across industries but nowhere has it been more prevalent than in retail. With consumer touchpoints with a brand on Mobile exceeding 50% this holiday shopping season, and growing, it is now time to move onto the next big area of growth for retailers - Ubiquitous Computing and a more specific manifestation of that, Digital In-Store Presences.

Ubiquitous Computing represents the fact that computing power and Digital Experience is not relegated to the Desktop, Laptop, Tablet and Mobile devices but almost every physical device be it a car, a watch or furniture and appliances all turn “smart” and “connected” resulting in a plethora of opportunities to touch consumers lives. These manifestations in retail could go all the way from Digital Signage solutions to Kiosks to Digital Shelf Edges which are LED equivalents of the paper price labels inside a store. This is the next wave that people sometimes call the Internet of Things (IoT) or even the Internet of Everything (IoE).

However, these Digital In-Store solutions are just about taking off today and following the lead of Mobile as a 3rd touchpoint. While we see many interesting scenarios coming alive in this space, there are a few specific aspects to be aware of while actually considering, designing or rolling out these presences. In this article, we will break those down to help get a perspective on how the industry is evolving.

  1. What’s the perfect size for Digital In-Store presences? 
  2. What kinds of technologies are used to identify and locate a Consumer? 
  3. How do you use location and profile information while addressing privacy concerns?

Size: What’s the perfect size
The reality in the retail space is that there is no one size fits all when it comes to store size and therefore there can never be a one size fits all when it comes to Digital In-Store touchpoints. Depending on the use cases involved and what the average order value is through to foot traffic patterns, you can go all the way from 2 inch LED’s operating as smart tags to mounted iPads to 1080p touch screens all the way to digital walls. So in reality, at the larger end, they are a part of the environs of the store while on the smaller side, they operate much like your personal “smart” devices. It is important to understand and embrace all of these sizes.

Location: Which technology do you use?
A key aspect of creating a consumer experience is in fact locating the customer. This is what enables aisle specific alerts, coupons and other such fun scenarios from being enacted. Again, much like the size comment above, triangulating a customer is a multi layered problem. At the top end is satellite based GPS services which allows you to triangulate to what is known in the industry as a “geofence” around a store. This is then coupled with cellular services which pinpoints the location further down to a few meters within an area and therefore can transform to “store mode” and notify associates of a valuable consumer walking in. You then get to Wi-Fi which can be enabled within a store letting to get to a smaller area of where the consumer is. In the last leg, you boil down to iBeacons (Bluetooth Low Energy) endpoints which bring that down to feet and then Near Field Communications down to inches. As you can see, you can so a great job of targeting content based on location if you consider what makes sense at each layer.

Privacy Concerns: How to address?
Finally, none of these will really take off unless you have surety and guarantees about the safety of consumer information. The more information you gain about the consumer (location, interactions) the more you can personalize the experience but at the same time increase the risk of privacy concerns, threats or leaks which break down the trust relationship a retailers has with their consumers.

Our recommendation of how we have seen this addressed is to operate data collected from your consumers much like it is THEIR data. It is being provided to a retailer in trust, much like a bank manages their money. By providing the same safeguards as a bank has to transfer, collect, accrue this information, the consumer is likely to increase the trust level. Finally, with many of our customers we suggest putting in place dashboards depicting the information collected (like an account statement), the ability to withdraw or delete information (like an ATM or money transfer function) you are putting the consumer firmly in charge!

In conclusion, as we see these 3 areas being increasingly embraced by large and small retailers and even other businesses with retail presences (restaurants, financial services institutions), there is going to be a greater possibility that your next Digital Interaction is not the Web or the Mobile but actually a shelf or a sign at your local store!!