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How digital will impact the next generation of in-store shopping

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Bryan Eisenberg always provides fresh insight, and his bold opening during the “Future Shopper” session at's First Look Track proved no different as he started, “The future is here – it’s just not widely distributed yet.” While most of us have an inkling that the next generation of consumers is growing up with high expectations, it was still a bit startling to hear a raft of them (via a video) tell us what they’ll expect from us as retailers and brands going forward. For perspective, Eisenberg gave the audience a “super duper condensed history of marketing, commerce and connectivity”, first juxtaposing images of a Roman coin with a credit card and payment by phone (my, how far we’ve come). The logistics and communications evolution has been rapidly evolving, too, of course – think of the path from the Gutenberg press to catalog retail to Amazon’s first home page, through online ads and social media, for example. With this condensed history in mind, Eisenberg examined how marketing has been redefined. With increasingly demanding consumers, marketing is now much more about pull than old-style marketing push. Some companies such as Amazon and Zappos are foregoing classic marketing altogether, instead making an optimal customer experience their marketing strategy and plan instead (talk about culture convergence). So, if this means “the end of business as usual”, what’s ahead for retailers? Eisenberg cited a number of evolutions that retailers need to keep an eye on, but the overarching theme is “Interactive Communications + Data = Increase in Relevance”. Eisenberg detailed what the future shopping experience might look like:

    • Smartphones will synch up with a set top box in your house. The point here is expressly about utility - it is not about having hundreds of channels to choose from. Rather, the set top box knows what we like, as well as what we actually use and need.
      • Webcams that give consumers “touch and shop” functionality, especially as webcams themselves become more sophisticated.

        “How will you MS Kinect ?

        • Eisenberg asked the audience, then demonstrated the “connect and share” scenario of two friends simultaneously in front of their screens at home, trying on and discussing various dresses for an upcoming evening out.
          • Paper ads going interactive. Eisenberg demonstrated how “all media is digitizing” with a video of an I-Ad in magazines, whereby the reader places his smart phone on top of a specific spot on the magazine ad (in this case for insurance company Axa), at which point part of the ad comes to life via a rather entertaining video. (“Think [also] about kids who try to use touch screen motion on a paper magazine,” Eisenberg added, underscoring the idea that future consumers will likely ignore entire a static ad, altogether.)
            • Mobile. Already impacting the online retail world, Eisenberg emphasized that mobile is all about relevance to the individual user. “It doesn’t matter if mobile isn’t driving revenue directly,” he noted, adding “Up to 50% of all purchases in a store are influenced by a mobile phone. [And] 65% of mobile consumers say they want to see more personalized ads.” As for those in-store searches consumers conduct, Eisenberg asked retailers if they’re leveraging the search data that people are using when they’re in one’s store? Think of the nuggets and insights waiting to be discovered so that you can learn and adapt store offerings and information to meet customer needs that they’re voicing via search. “The truth is inevitable,” he stated emphatically, “You can’t block information or access in-store without people just leaving your store and going elsewhere.”

              So what should retailers do next? Eisenberg lamented that, “the future is almost here" – and yet so many companies are in "wait and see" mode, wondering whether they should test or not, should they start a mobile strategy or not, dive into analytics or not?  Instead, take a hint from Google, which is already operating in “future state” mode: “We can suggest what you should do next, what you care about. Imagine: we know where you are, we know what you like.” (Eric Schmidt’s IFA Keynote, September 2010) Per Eisenberg, here’s what retailers need to be doing right now:

              • Think cross-channel. Consumers don’t care about channels, so forget channel vs. channel. For example, Best Buy includes customer ratings on price tags in stores. Ratings and reviews are popping up in store displays and on packaging everywhere.
              • Start testing and adapting. Two examples that Eisenberg cited to inspire the audience to think “future state” now included CScout in Japan and Tesco in South Korea.  Example 1:  Within the CScout in Japan, the consumer picks up a hangar with a specific pair of jeans, which starts a video relevant to that particular product (so, a customized in-store experience relevant to you and the product in which you’re interested).  Example 2:  On the theme of “Will you take risks?”, Tesco (renamed “Home Plus” locally) in South Korea decided to let the store come to the people, rather than opening more physical locations. How so? The company developed virtual stores in everyday life, like in subway stations, by using QR code technology on billboards designed to look like a grocery shelf stocked with many household staples. People waiting for the subway could shop the billboard with their smartphone, pay for their purchase, then have the groceries delivered to their home. Online sales increased 130%, and the number of registered users grew significantly also.

              Are you motivated by these fascinating examples of the future shopper? If so, what will you be testing and trying next?