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Comment: In-store technology can link off and online retail says Jonathan Berlin of Iconeme

The boundary between off and online retail is no longer clearly defined and this trend has been gathering serious momentum over the last few years. Take the high street for example. Shopping in-store is no longer a purely offline experience, customers are using smartphones and tablets to help them check prices and compare items while on the move, plus order online if a product isn’t available. Likewise, many consumers check blogs and reviews or get inspiration from sites such as Pinterest, before committing to a purchase in-store.

To illustrate this, recent research from Google shows that when in-store, almost two times as many shoppers prefer to learn about products and promotions from their smartphones as from a store associate. Further to this, 84 percent of smartphone shoppers use their mobile to help them make purchases while in a physical store and almost half use their mobile for at least 15 minutes per store visit. Customers are clearly connected and engaged online while shopping on the high street, which presents a huge opportunity for retailers - but are they making the most of it?

The answer, strangely, seems to be ‘no’ or at least ‘not yet’. Although the lines between off and online retail are certainly blurring, engaging customers digitally while they’re shopping in a store is still years away from reaching its full potential. For example, most retailers have both physical stores plus a website that’s optimised for consumer mobile and tablet usage. However, very few retailers are actually targeting and engaging with customer devices directly as people enter and browse around a store, and in this way, companies are missing a huge opportunity.

As the research above shows, consumers want to use their phones while shopping in store but retailers are offering very little beyond the standard experience of connecting to a website. By utilising smart technologies, retailers have so many more innovative options available to them. This could include: welcoming a customer via their smartphone as they walk in the store, alerting them to relevant offers based on previous purchasing history, helping them to find items they’re looking for, or even enabling them to pay and keep track of vouchers and receipts through their devices, rather than various physical store cards and pieces of paper.

For example we’ve created the VMBeacon and Iconeme app, which transmits product information from store mannequins to passing shoppers. Customers can receive an automatic alert which includes details about the clothes and accessories displayed, such as price, with links to purchase them directly from the retailer’s website, or directions to where they can be found within the store. The customer can also see more detailed photos and descriptions of the products, plus save looks for later, share with friends and access additional offers and rewards.  

So if technology like this is available now, why aren’t retailers implementing these measures yet? Well, they’re beginning to, but in terms of real consumer targeting, there is still a long way to go. Technology is certainly changing retail but it’s a slow process, and in many ways, it’s consumers, rather than the companies, that are leading the change. Retailers need to look at how and why customers are engaging online while in store, as the ones who do this will be able to capitalise on this ever growing trend. It’s not a one-way street however, retailers need to offer customers a seamless and highly engaging experience, which bridges the gap between on and offline, in order to achieve insight, understanding and ultimately improve revenue and growth.


Jonathan Berlin is founder of Iconeme