The Brave New World of Retail

There’s nothing new about what shoppers want. But as a reminder, they want a seamless shopping experience across all channels and make purchases easily. Shoppers are looking for more flexible payment options whether it’s using their mobile devices in-store or shopping online. The whole idea behind flexible payment options allow shoppers to avoid time-consuming actions like repeatedly entering their contact or credit card information and going through multiple screens to get to the checkout page. The journey should be seamless no matter where it takes place.

ChannelNomics — The latest research from MasterCard confirms at least one thing we already know about retail customers: They are demanding more and more flexibility when it comes to making payments for their purchases.

According to the company’s first Retail Social Listening Study, consumers are asking for more convenient payment options – and getting them. Of the shopping- and retail-related online conversations that were analyzed, more than three-quarters (77 percent) focused on the convenience of new digital payment methods. More specifically, consumers are saying they want to become untethered from their wallets and purses – that is, able to use mobile payments whenever and wherever they choose.

For the study, MasterCard teamed up with PRIME Research, a communications research company, to analyze 1.6 million social media posts from July 2014 to June 2015, all on the subject of shopping and retail.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube were among the social media channels included, and conversations were drawn from more than 60 markets across North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific Rim.

In keeping with the demand for convenient (and secure) payment methods, MasterCard is working on a number of initiatives. One is biometrics-based payments that allow consumers to use smartphones to verify their identities via fingerprint scans or facial photographs. Another is MasterPass, a digital wallet that lets users make ‘contactless’ payments directly from their Android or iOS device.

But more flexible payment systems aren’t the only thing driving the retail technology space. Customers also want an enhanced shopping experience, and retailers want to leverage the copious volumes of data at their fingertips to expand their customer bases and grow profits.

To make the shopping experience more enjoyable, personal and exciting, retailers have a number of options at their disposal. The ‘showrooming’ phenomenon, for example, is one that industry pundits say will gain some serious traction by 2020. Thomas Keenan, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and author of a book called Technocreep, predicts that stores “will become like museums. We’ll go to see something, to learn and be entertained.”

To that end, retailers will start using devices and technologies that create impressions and promote interaction, such as beacons (sensors that communicate data to smartphones and engage users), sensory stimulants – smells, for example, and augmented reality displays. Wearables, too, will gain more widespread use, providing yet another vehicle for interaction and engagement. In addition, the retail experience will become more automated via self-service kiosks, in-store mapping tools and near field communication technology.

Meanwhile, retailers that fail to leverage big data and analytics will be missing out on a huge opportunity to accomplish two things – first, to enhance the shopping and buying experience of existing customers, and second, to target and attract new ones.

While e-commerce retailers currently have an advantage when it comes to analytics, bricks-and-mortar players have access to a growing repertoire of tools. Products that analyze foot traffic allow retailers to study conversion rates, peak traffic behaviors and dwell times for improved decision-making and tailored customer interactions. Smart shelves keep track of inventory, advertise directly to consumers and offer shoppers real-time price updates. And analysis of SKU performance can help stores adjust merchandise inventory and create promotions on the fly.

Of course, integrating all of these technologies in order to embrace the ‘omnichannel’ experience will be outside the scope of expertise (and energy) for many retailers. That’s where solution providers come in.

In-the-know channel companies can tap their intelligence of the retail space to help retailers pick and choose technology vendors, map out deployment plans, measure return on investment and tweak their infrastructures to maximize resources.

No two retailers are exactly alike. With help from VARs, integrators and MSPs, each can enter the digital age in its own unique way.

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