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Using innovative technologies to transform the customer experience

Out of the movie theatre and into our lives, new technologies will help improve the customer experience, transforming how we interact with our customers online and offline.

Article from NZ Retail Magazine, Issue 710.

Bill Gates once famously said that “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

That assertion is as valid today as it was when it was originally said more than ten years ago. Even for those of us in the technology sector, the pace of change appears to be increasing. Ten years ago, few people would have accurately predicted we would be trying on clothes in virtual dressing rooms or wearing augmented reality glasses. Such innovations may have been seen in movie theatres, but not considered for everyday life – and now that’s changing.

Customers are continuing to seek more from their retail experience. Whether they are shopping at home, walking down the proverbial high street, perusing a mall, or using some other form of interaction, customers are looking for more than just boxes of product on shelves. The continual growth of online shopping and e-commerce, coupled with the rise in social media and mobile devices, has created noticeable challenges and opportunities for retailers, who are having to more than dip their toes into the online space: in many cases they are being forced to change their business models in response to increased local and international competition.

Consequently, technology could be seen by retailers as an enemy; as a threat to how their businesses have been run in the past. But at the same time, technology must be seen as an enabler. Retailers have the opportunity to evaluate and embrace the technology that continues to appear, looking at overseas models and continuing to assess and adopt those products and services that could make a difference. In doing so, the nature of retail competition changes: consumers will choose not purely based on price, but on the experience they have when making those purchases.

These evolutions in technology aren’t only happening online; they can help us – as retailers – to better inform, educate and sell (and up-sell and cross-sell) to our customer base, using methods of interaction that we previously have only dreamt about. Two examples of such innovation provide us with an indication of how the in-store retail experience could change in the coming years.


Augmenting the reality of retail

Swivel, by US company FaceCake Marketing Technologies (see http://www.facecake.com/swivel), uses the gesture and recognition technologies of the Kinect device from Microsoft to provide a 3D virtual dressing room that enables shoppers to “try on” clothing and accessories. Demonstrated recently at the Retail Australasia 2012 event in Auckland, shoppers can stand in front of a screen and see how these items will look when worn; without having to physically try on every piece of clothing. And if the shopper likes an item, the system can suggest complementary pieces of apparel. For retailers, this provides a new level of experience and convenience, whilst customers can try on items quickly and easily. Department store Bloomingdales is currently trialling this technology.

Taking a completely different approach to interacting with one’s surroundings is Project Glass, Google's recently announced effort to build augmented-reality goggles. Still yet to be released – and probably two to three years from general availability – this technology foreshadows further disruption and opportunities – not just for the retail sector, but for anyone who consumes data and information.


Project Glass

Project Glass


In some of the early demonstrations, Google shows a user wandering around New York City while maps, text messages and reminders appear on the lens, in front of the user’s eye – effectively overlaying digital information on top of the experience the user is having. Imagine how this could be used in a retail context. Software could recognise an item and tell a person where to purchase it; inside a shop, a person could look at an item and find out about other products in the range, and what colour and sizing options are available.

Many of these technologies are yet to be proven; they are pioneering new ground in the world of retailing, yet have the potential to positively change how we interact – with each other and within the confines of a store. All these innovations are about creating experiences for our customers. Inevitably, organisations that assess the opportunities created by these new experiences will be able to get a head start on their competition. As unfamiliar or as far-fetched as they may be, these innovations are graduating from the laboratories and into our everyday lives faster than ever before.

Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 24 September 2012

Tags: Google, Microsoft, Kinect, Retail trends, Retail

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