There were 4,500 exhibitors and 20,000 tech products at CES in January. Many were captivating. Some could become transformative in the industry. Digital innovation is unquestionably foundational for retailers focused on staying ahead of their competitors.
For many, witnessing the advancements in technology serves as decisive motivation to finally join the early adopters in developing their own digital strategy.
As noted by CB Insights, “In-store retail tech investment is growing. Financing increased nearly 60% to $3.7B in 2019, as retailers recognize the need to invest in tech that can potentially improve productivity and profitability.”
While CB Insights also noted that 70 percent of the investment in 2020 would be toward automatic checkout and AI-enabled shelf analytics, the CES offerings often were far more space age.
What were some of the highlights?
Delta showcased a digital screen that delivered tailored airport information to travelers in their own language with a quick scan of a boarding pass. Samsung celebrated its dynamic video wall as having “no boundaries, endless possibilities.”
A product display made up of LED cubes transformed into a fountain before your eyes. Flexible OLED screens spanned over 100 yards, creating a deep ocean experience on the ceiling.
Many displays were equal parts art and technology, such as a tree whose leaves were made up of small AMOLED screens and alternated between lush green and a crisp fall array of colors.
While it’s difficult not to be impressed by showstoppers like biometric advances, drones, AR/VR, robots, AI, 5G and IoT advances, what ultimately will create wins for retailers in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive environment is never letting “This-Is-So-Cool!” distract from the primacy of strategy, execution and ROI.
The process starts with recognizing that content is (still) king. You can have all the beautiful screens and cutting-edge hardware that thrill in the showroom, but if you don’t start with a deep, thoughtful understanding of what you want your new hardware to showcase and achieve, you won’t improve your customer experience, differentiate yourself from competitors and see a return on your investment.
A quick story: A Miller Zell team was doing a store walk recently when the potential client presented its latest digital kiosk to us. Only it appeared to be turned off. The store didn’t know why it wasn’t working. There were waiting for a technician to come and troubleshoot it. One of our associates asked if he could take a look inside. What he discovered was that they were using an outdated, consumer-grade tablet. So, he pressed the power button, and on came the tablet and the content.
But that’s not the kicker. The kicker was the content. It was just a series of seemingly random commercials for brands in the store, and it was the first thing you saw after walking through the door.
That won’t make you stand out to customers -compared to your competitors.
Is your new digital experience intended to be merely ambient? Or are you trying to engage through storytelling? Are you focused on entertaining or creating a “Wow!” moment? Or is your primary goal more purpose-driven, guiding your customer as efficiently as possible from Point A to Point of Purchase? Or is it simply to drive store traffic?
CES is one thing. It mostly aims for theatrical impact. The space you intend to digitize, however, must be defined by a strategic plan for improving the customer experience, making it more personal and immersive. Digital inclusion is most effective when there is a strategy developed at the point of designing your customer journey in your environment. Where most fail is trying to simply “add a screen” in their space with no strategy.
And, by the way, once the content plan is adopted, who will manage it? And what’s the process for refreshing, evaluating and evolving that content?
Moreover, this planning and strategizing can’t be siloed. Your customers are no longer consciously dividing their shopping between online and in-store, and neither should you. Retailers need to make the customer journey as frictionless as possible and fully integrate their various channels. Every new piece of technology can help advance that cause if done so with purpose.
This includes opportunities to use your new in-store technology to engage your customers on their phones. Many of your customers are ready for this interaction if you provide them value: 54 percent of younger shoppers are willing to give up data to get some kind of benefit, according to a recent Harris Poll. Personalized offers mean helping your customer achieve their buying goals faster and with ease. It also helps brands connect with their customers on a much deeper level.
Further, 5G will make it easier to provide consistent value to customers, which will drive consumer adoption and a willingness to opt in to the IoT. While this much-discussed connectivity upgrade is not available on a wide scale yet, the Consumer Technology Association forecasts that there will be 133 million 5G handsets in the U.S. by 2023. In short, the ability to connect data to the customer at speed and at scale is right around the corner.
Once the right hardware, strategy and content are adopted, that only means you’re off to a good start. Retailers need to collect data and develop an understanding of their customers at the most granular level possible. They must then leverage this data to drive customer engagement.
Beyond in-store and online analytics, retailers need to analyze how their customers rely on social media for product information, reviews and recommendations. Our strategy and insights team at Miller Zell knows that retailers need to have a deep understanding as to how their customers use social media for product information, reviews and recommendations. We have provided clients with data from social listening as well as information culled from Google and Cardlytics to understand customer motivations and sentiments within specific timeframes.
It’s about connecting with your customers in ways that bring them the most value. That next evolution of strategic digital thinking will differentiate you from your competitors.
That’s why Miller Zell guides its clients toward purposeful digital solutions that will optimize their customer experience, support associates and eliminate friction along the path to purchase. Current technology is a part of this, but what ultimately provides ROI is a shopping experience that is founded in an ecosystem that is a strategic, comprehensive environment that helps present a brand to customers at its aspirational best.
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