CES 2016: IOT, VR, AR & groceries  

Try to contain your excitement because the connected fridge is finally here. This future blend of refrigeration and grocery retail was launched at CES in Las Vegas.

MasterCard joined forces with Samsung to unveil their Groceries application for the Family Hub refrigerator, which boasts a 21.5 inch display allowing consumers to view their fridge contents without opening the door and order replacement items with taps and swipes.

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It’s smart too, having the capacity to learn what types of food and drink products consumers’ favour. In time, I suspect the capability will be added to automatically order the items consumed most regularly and bring new meaning to ‘out of stocks’.

The fridge will also tailor product recommendations as it learns. This will bring some solace for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands that have fought for attention on supermarket shelves for so long and are now trying to understand how to bring this same fight to eCommerce.

Shopper marketers must now ask the question, how do you win in grocery if your consumer is buying from their fridge? Part of that answer must be in recommendation and the other part will come through shoppable media that connects brand communication seamlessly with ecommerce. Groceries by MasterCard is on to this already and the companion app will work on smartphone, tablet or PC and enable consumers to add items to the household shopping list. It’s surely only a matter of time before we see a Groceries by MasterCard ‘buy now’ button on CPG brand communication.

The cynics out there will be quick to suggest it will be more than five years before the connected fridge poses a real commercial threat to traditional grocery retail models and, given the $5,000 price point for this Samsung model, they have a point.

Transforming shopping and ecommerce with VR and AR

Virtual reality applications are much cheaper to access, making them very big news at CES this year because they promise an experience that has previously been the stuff of science fiction. Gamers will be the big winners in this, but shoppers should expect to see more VR too.

A Google Cardboard headset costs around £5 and a consumer can already enter a far more immersive experience than is provided by a holiday brochure by coupling Cardboard with Google Maps or, as Nestle offered in its partnership with Google, the experience of touring a Brazilian coffee plantation.

VR has the opportunity to transform ecommerce, enabling a near real experience of a product that had only been available in-store until now. But we will also see more retailers using VR in their shops to educate, inspire and sell product benefits. This will provide a reason for new customers to visit stores and, if the experience is good, it will keep them coming back.

Augmented reality is set to enhance shopper experience and the ModiFace Mirror shows just what can be achieved in-store. The mirror allows users to change not only their makeup but also whiten their teeth, alter their eyebrows, reverse the signs of aging, and change eye color while also delivering a 3D makeup tutorial. At an expected $2,000 per unit it’s not cheap, but compared to the salary of additional sales associates it represents value.

I’m not a big fan of removing staff from the shop floor as they make the biggest difference in customer experience, but the idea of being greeted by a Segway advanced robot in aisle seven sounds like fun.

Innovations in cash management

Where retailers do need to manage cost is in cash management and a new addition to CES this year was the Digital Money Forum. Apple, Google and Samsung all see the future as being in smartphone-based payments that deliver fast, seamless and secure transactions for consumers. More exciting is the innovation at the intersection of wearable technology and payments.

MasterCard and fintech firm Coin announced a partnership  that will enable manufacturers to integrate mobile payments into pretty much anything able to accommodate an NFC chip. Fitness tracker-makers Atlas and Moov and smart watch producer Omate have already signed-up to MasterCard’s Digital Enablement Service and I am sure we will see many more products do so very soon.

All this talk of the future makes me feel my age and I’m starting to think those oldies who don’t own connected fridges and still use cash will be the only people left in our stores. Help is at hand though. The Genworth R701 Exoskeleton could become the must have tool to help retailers shape stores for people like me in our old age because wearing the product simulates what it feels like to be an elderly person. That brings to mind an apocryphal story involving a CEO who wore a pregnancy suit to shop his store and then conceived the idea of parent and baby parking.

This anecdote provides a reminder that while CES brings us fantastic insight into technology that might shape retail in the future, we must never forget that the customers who shop our stores are real people and that true transformation in retail experience is always grounded in human truths.

2016: Back to the Future of Retail

This article was first published by Retail Week on 31st December 2015

Star Wars caught the imagination at the close of 2015 but the film franchise that holds greater resonance for retail is surely Back to the Future.

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October 21, 2015, was the date on which Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown arrived to the future in the second instalment of trilogy. The film debuted in 1989 and the passing of its most famous date last October prompted reflection on what had altered in 25 years. For retail the changes were seismic. In 1989, Walmart was the world’s third largest retailer with $25.8 billion in sales. Amazon didn’t exist. Neither did Alibaba. On 11th November 2015, Alibaba posted sales of $14.32 billion in a single day. Singles’ Day in China.

Given these significant transformations, just what will 2016 bring for retail?

Rubbish into fuel

The COP21 conference in Paris provided impetus for retailers to bring environmental issues into sharp focus as their customers demand transparency from business and value for their values. The reality in 2016 will be new stores that aim to be self-sufficient in energy, more electric delivery vehicles, and the roll out of charging points in car parks.

Robotic Retail

The movies might suggest plastic characters taking orders but the reality is more profound in the shape of Robotic process automation (RPA) in the supply chain and in-store systems that can provide digitally-led customer experiences.

 Machine-to-machine interfaces have the ability to predict and match a consumer’s needs to real-time availability, location, price and delivery. The customer experience is improved and increasingly personal, while the retailer can improve responsiveness while reducing costs and inefficiency.

Wearable tech

Assuming retailers have not replaced their staff with robots, the simplest way to connect them with the cloud and the rest of the salesforce will be a wearable device. This will simplify regular retail procedures and improve customer experience.

CXO trumps CMO

“We can’t advertise our way out of a problem we behaved our way into”. Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis, talking about the challenges the global retailer faces.

Proactive retailers are looking at their organizational behaviours to ensure they stay connected with their customers. UK retailer Game has taken an innovative approach to customer experience, not only building an award-winning app that brings together all its store tools and loyalty scheme into a very convenient mobile solution for the customer, but also empowering its managers to create a community of gamers around each store.

Everywhere, Instant & personal

People do not care about on-line, bricks and mortar or m-commerce, they want to move seamlessly between environments, platforms and devices to fulfill their shopping missions. They don’t care if something is advertising or design, shopper-marketing or promotion, social or CRM, they simply want the best experience.

Back to the Future of Retail will require brands and retailers to inspire the three human behaviours that drive purchase: search, shop and share. But, in tackling the most modern of shopping behaviours, they must not lose the shop keeping skills of the past. Know your customer and give them what they want, when they want it. Make it easy and convenient to buy and deliver value for their values.

Now what would Marty McFly make of all that?

How the Super Bowl turns views into purchases

First published in Retail Week 11th February 2015

As well as being the first major US sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl is a red letter day in the US retail calendar and is estimated to be worth $14.3bn (£9.4bn).

It’s a big day for advertising too – arguably the biggest in the world.

Last year’s ad spend topped $330m (£216m). That’s just over a dollar for every US citizen.

But what relevance does it have for UK retailers? American football may be a minority interest here but the issues the Super Bowl exposes are pertinent this side of the pond.

As retailers know, turning viewers into buyers is a challenge.

Last year H&M tried to close the gap by airing the first ‘shoppable’ TV commercial using Delivery Agent’s ShopTV platform to sell David Beckham’s underwear range.

This year Katy Perry’s half-time show was shoppable. Viewers were able to purchase exclusive products promoted by Universal Music and half-time show sponsor Pepsi. Meanwhile, Twitter’s ‘buy now’ button enabled tweets to be shopped using Visa Checkout.

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It is further proof that the traditional boundaries of brand communications and retail are becoming blurred.

Retailers, especially fashion retailers such as Asos, are already pointing the way to a future when everything that can be shoppable will be shoppable.

That will create a new dimension to what it means to be truly omnichannel.

But the battle for the Super Bowl dollar does not take place on TV – it is won or lost on the shopfloor.

The elaborate Super Bowl-themed displays and promotions in US big-box grocers dwarf anything you would see in a UK store.

While viewers see Super Bowl advertising as part of the entertainment, for retailers ad spend and money spent on property rights are all wrapped up in supplier negotiation for off-shelf display.

AB Inbev, which owns Budweiser, set up 150,000 displays in advance of the event, supported by ad spend and sponsorship of the NFL.

That will be very familiar to retailers and brand owners in the UK,where we are also seeing money from traditional advertising budgets move to digital media and shopper marketing.

Increasingly that shopper marketing spend is digital, reflecting changing shopping habits. Consumers are as likely to find inspiration through Pinterest as through traditional media.

Many retailers understand this and are changing how they approach creative work. For example, Walmart claims to vet every creative idea on how well it will play out in social media.

The relationship between retailers and brand owners is constantly evolving and has always been a negotiation, but the news last week that Tesco is to face investigation for breach of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice highlights how tense that has become.

As we see changes in shopping behaviour brought about by the rise of shoppable media and consumer empowerment through mobile technology, a genuine shift to partnership between brands and retailers will be required.

I don’t miss the record store

I was £40 man, the guy who could not leave a record store without spending £40. Back when people bought records this was a recognised shopper, the individual who had to by at least 4 albums and they typically cost £10 each.

It was a magical shopping experience, the store was full of people thumbing through racks of records, all the same shape, but each different in colour and key visual. Band logos changed as they reinvented themselves to stay relevant, knowing that fans would be loyal, but true music lovers were always searching for the new. The store was a place to explore, to learn and it felt like there was no end to choice. The staff became our friends; they were our guides and editor, occasionally looking a little disapprovingly at our choices. Leaving the store with a bag full of music felt good, a mission accomplished and with all the excitement of the new music ritual to come. Exploring the packaging, reading every sleeve note and playing each track. Then the sharing.

Today I am £10 a month man, a fully signed up customer of a music subscription service. I love it and listen to more music than ever.

Every day I thumb through carousels of music, all the same shape, but each different in colour and key visual. I explore, learn and find what is new. There is almost no end to the choice and the guides are specialist curators I choose to follow. My friends are there to help me edit and then there is the sharing.

I don’t miss the record store because Spotify is a fantastic retailer.

Out of the app and into the store with KakaoTalk

First posted with Econsultancy

People have been talking about social commerce for some time now. The idea that shopping behaviour can be directed and informed by social networks is intriguing to retailers, but its application has been clunky.

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However developments by South Korean instant messenger app KakaoTalk point towards social becoming much more ‘shoppable’.

KakaoTalk is the dominant messaging app in Korea, used by more than 90% of smartphone owners. It is a near ubiquitous part of daily life for people who use it to make free calls and texts, share content and take part in group chats.

It is a hybrid app, half instant messenger, half social profile, whose development in some ways mirrors how Facebook has evolved to cover more bases.

Of particular interest to retailers is KakaoTalk’s capabilities for driving shoppers in-store. Its Plus Friend feature enables users to follow brands and receive communications and shopping vouchers via IM. Recipients can then redeem the voucher in a given store.

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Shoppers can also use the feature to buy and virtually send gifts to their friends and families. They could for instance buy a t-shirt from Uniqlo via KakaoTalk and then ‘gift it’ to a friend who could then go in-store and pick up the t-shirt. With today’s shoppers expecting a new level of convenience, this feature provides it in spades as recipients would be able to try on the item and swap the size or colour there and then.

As well as tying physical retailers back into mix of channels, it would also provide additional benefits in savings on postage. Imagine also the boon for last minute buying at times such as Christmas when even the most laggardly of us would have no excuse for making a purchase and sending it to the right person.

The emergence of instant messaging as a shoppable channel is another example of how retailers need to consider a wider array of channels for their marketing efforts.

In fact shoppers no longer care about channels, they just want to be able to move seamlessly between platforms, media, devices and environments to achieve their shopping mission.

Crucially this is affecting how marketing is perceived by shoppers. It is no longer enough for ads to create desire, they must also be able to satisfy it there and then.

Hence online retailer ASOS has introduced the hashtag #asseenonme as a way of encouraging users to share pictures of their outfits. Anybody searching the hashtag can buy what they see, because ASOS ensures every image is then linked to the relevant product pages.

US beauty website Joyus.com has developed shoppable content through its how-to videos. Any make-up products featured can be clicked on at any time and purchased. Meanwhile H&M customers with Samsung smart TVs were able to buy David Beckham’s underwear straight from its Superbowl ad spot.

It’s all part of the drive towards the everywhere, instant and personal shopping experience that smartphone wielding consumers expect. And with its IM capabilities, KakaoTalk demonstrates how retail can move shoppers out of the app and into the store.