We all know that retail has changed quite significantly in the past decade. Even in the past year, the demise of Toys R Us in the USA and the UK markets, and other notable store closures are a common lament. We are all consumers ourselves and have experienced these changes first-hand.
Consumer expectations, lifestyle, needs, and desires have changed the way people like to purchase, and their preferences influence how and where they choose to purchase. Your customers expect their brand experience to be a fluid one, no matter where they choose to make their purchase: online, at brick-and-mortar, or via a mobile interaction. And they also expect seamless transactions that are quick and efficient, blending the worlds of digital and physical.
Does your brand model meet these objectives, whether you are selling a product or a service? If not, read on. Retailers and manufacturers need to be aware of the latest technologies, and how their competitors are using them to gain customers and retail sales.
Earning Digital Currency
When offered a truly engaging and interactive experience at an in-store location, or an unexpected interaction through their mobile or online device, many consumers want to be surprised and delighted. By capturing their attention with a unique or personalized experience, most will want to share that encounter with their social community, many via their online social networks. If they do, you have gained some digital currency, and have won some loyalty points with that customer.
What experiences have you encountered recently that truly made you smile and want to share the experience? How can you create that positive feeling about your products, or services?
Different retail models delight consumers with new experiences
Whether it is a personalized selection process, a fun and engaging interactive experience through use of virtual reality, augmented reality, visual imagery, or a sensory, tactile technique, it is that new approach to retail where many people embrace the unexpected. And if it encourages consumers to purchase your products, and to share that positive impression forward via social media, through digital communities, or via word-of-mouth, your customers become vocal brand ambassadors for you.
Magic Mirror Technologies engage consumers
Magic mirror technologies have been engaging consumers at retail from make-up purchasing to apparel selections. There are some examples for successful launches.
actiMirror Virtual Makeup - Smart Mirrors
Sephora, a chain of global stores that specialize in make-up, fragrance and beauty products now offers customers multiple tech options that allow them to personalize their shopping experience by trying on makeup virtually using AR, matching their skin tone to a foundation with AI, and sampling a fragrance via a touchscreen and scented air.
The Sephora Virtual Artist, created in cooperation with ModiFace technology, is an AR tool that allows customers to try on thousands of shades of makeup products sold at Sephora, and use beauty tutorials on their own face digitally to learn how to achieve certain looks. Virtual Artist is available in the Sephora app as well as in select stores.
The Rebecca Minkoff “Connected Fitting Room” mirror
In the San Francisco and Manhattan-based stores, the dressing room mirrors are transformed into interactive screens. The rooms use RFID (radio-frequency identification) to recognize all items in the fitting room and to identify sizes and colors available in the store. If the shopper needs a different size or color, they simply touch the screen to submit the request to a sales associate. Personalized recommendations are also provided to the shopper, based upon what the customer has selected.
How fun would it be to have a child enter a virtual playground, in your store, and use a magical, interactive touchscreen mirror to imagine a bedroom, playroom or home equipped with their favorite wish list of toys, games and tech?
A new tactic for using virtual reality immerses consumers in activities that provide an instant recognition that their efforts are recognized and rewarded.
At Toms shoes, the brand donates a pair of shoes to children-in-need, for every pair of shoes purchased. Customers can use Samsung virtual reality headsets, to immerse themselves in a 360-degree in-store video that shows the impact that these donated shoes have upon a Peruvian village that is the recipient of this one-for-one mission. To see the actual impact of your giving is a completely different emotional connection to the brand than just knowing that you have contributed to a worthy cause. To date, they have donated over 60 Million pairs of shoes to children in need.
littleBits, a New York -based platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that enable kids to invent anything, has just recently purchased the San-Francisco-based DIY.com, an educational social network for kids. The deal includes Jam.com, a subscription-based STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) educational platform.
In the littleBits first brick-and-mortar store, opened in Soho, New York, shoppers can build their inventions, even before they buy the product. This littleBits model of engagement is capitalizing on a trend incorporating the DIY STEM to STEAM movement, by tapping into parent’s desire to provide real hands-on experiences, and physical product builds for their kids.
Incorporate digital elements into your offers and use beacon technology
By using digital coupons via mobile devices, QR codes to scan in-store, or augmented reality touch-points, instore or via devices, you can reach additional consumers who may not have been exposed to a print coupon for your product. Couponing, price off, treasure hunting, and act-now limited time offer deals have all been proven methods of increasing consumer purchases. These digital tools allow your consumers to easily interact with and engage with your brand.
Newer Bluetooth technologies also use these Smart Phone Beacons to transform the in-store shopping experience. These device beacons can assist customers with navigating your store to find exactly what they need quickly. With beacon technology, shoppers can download the retailer's app, opt into beacons, and then easily learn where that item is, as beacons broadcast signals to their mobile device. Additional information or videos on product usage can also be accessed, and then the customer can buy online, and have the product shipped directly to their home. Or purchase in-store.
Even Walmart has filed a new patent for facial-recognition technology that can detect a customer’s frustration level. This new tool is intended to be used to identify a frustrated or unhappy consumer, and to deploy a sales associate to the customer, to ease and alleviate their frustration during their shopping experience. Customer retention is much more cost-effective than losing an un-satisfied customer, and then having to recruit new customers.
Be the trend-hunter yourself
If these new methods have inspired you, take a field trip through your local malls, retail stores and especially your competitors’ retail outlets or online websites. Find how your favorite brands are trying to entice you to engage and purchase their products. Do these methods work for you, and how can you incorporate them into your messaging and outreach to your target customers?
Whether your target is the child toy recipient, or the adult gift-giver, be aware of these new methods and seek to add them to your toolbox, where it makes sense for your business model. Engage your staff and your digitally-obsessed employees to point out what works for them, and brainstorm ways to make new techniques and new technologies work for your brands.
The future of retailing is changing, and better to be a part of the growing revolution than to be considered a dinosaur of the past.
About the author
Reyne Rice is a Global Trend Hunter, Journalist and CEO of ToyTrends based in New York. She is a frequent keynote speaker at 20+ global industry conferences annually. The Toy Industry Analyst has over 30 years of experience in marketing, researching and analyzing the children’s and family technology and the youth market.