A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase.
Here’s a good idea for parents to tuck away for next Christmas: A Canadian company named P&E Watts Holdings has put together a “wish list app” for children called TinyToyList.com. The idea is that the site, with its oversized images and touch-friendly interface, enables very young children to choose toys without being subjected to ads, being tracked or wandering off to naughty sites not designed for nice young users. Parents can limit the selection by setting age and price limits; the child then can create his or her own list of items that parents can track down and purchase from conventional e-commerce sites. An iOS and an Android app are planned for the future.
Bacardi Limited’s Patron brand has made marketing through limited-edition packaging a specialty. This year, over the holidays, the brand launched what it called a “first-of-its-kind” holiday experience, pairing user-generated content with Web-based augmented reality renderings of its packaging. The WebAR was created by technology consultant Rose Digital, New York City, using the WebGL engine to create custom “digital wrapping” that a recipient can view on a mobile device. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel if someone sent me a virtual bottle of booze for Christmas with virtually no booze inside, so I sent one to myself. It was simple to execute using their various templates. I put an image of my dog Olive, passed out, on the bottle.
Last November, technology specialist Clean Planet Solutions and Los Angeles-based Vu Digital Media launched “High Bright Video Advertising Benches,” mini-digital billboards placed outside storefronts that broadcast full HD video and audio commercials. The ad placement logic is straightforward enough: A parking-lot-facing bench can alert arriving shoppers about everything from national brand messages to daily store specials when they are primed to make buying decisions. Vu Digital Media operates “High Bright” as a turnkey program, handling the manufacturing, installation and maintenance of the benches as well as hosting the content management system.
Shopping startup “YesSheMay.com” launched last November to offer “socially conscious gifting” in time for the holidays. The company claims that YesSheMay is the only online platform on which consumers can shop exclusively for products made by women-owned businesses from around the world. Its mission is to help these entrepreneurs grow globally by offering them access to an advanced technology platform and competitive shipping rates.
Company executives say they spoke with more than 300 women founders and selected the most innovative to participate on the site. Each product offered was curated so that no two brands compete in the same space. The site boasts more than 800 products from 50 women-owned brands.
SPOTLIGHT: At the Shelf
In late January, Charlotte, N.C.-based InVue launched “InVue LIVE,” a connected platform said to offer real-time visibility by tracking, monitoring and managing activities such as merchandising, access control, security and operations. This suite of hardware and software employs Semtech’s “Low Power, Wide Area Networking” (LoRaWAN) specification, a sub-GHz networking protocol that’s used in smart home and IoT devices. LoRaWAN boasts easy setup, robust global security standards and scalability, and this is considered to be a first-of-its-kind application for retail operations.
The first compatible products to be released include the OSA Sensor designed to track important SKUs and deliver alerts when shelves are empty; and the S3100V, a display with a wireless sensor that allows customers and store associates to handle products without cords and even demo them while moving about the store, albeit inside its security parameters.
A sign that in-store-marketing innovation is ramping back up: Pricer announced a deal to deploy its electronic shelf labels (ESLs) in 119 Best Buy stores during the second quarter of 2021. Best Buy began adding ESLs in 2019, but the rollout was constrained by the pandemic. Stockholm, Sweden-based Pricer has sold more than 200 million ESLs to 17,000 stores in more than 50 countries, but they are still relatively unusual in the U.S. Pricer’s three-color (black, white and red) ESLs are connected to store computers, enabling instant updating of info such as pricing and QR codes.
Back in our P-O-P Times days, we tracked patent filings, so we’re trained to watch for out-of-the-box ideas. Walmart Apollo LLC has a patent pending (filed April 2020) on a “customized in-store navigation” system that could be game changing. The patent envisions a system of shelving units and electronic shelf labels (ESLs), beacons, wireless access points and a navigation interface that ultimately will “display directions to the location of the target retail product on a display device.”
Back in 2017, Walmart got some static when a similar patent filing – this one was for “a biometric feedback cart handle” – was discovered by some British newspapers. A system that logs your grip on your shopping cart, turns it into “a stress estimation” and then alerts “store associates that a customer may need assistance” sounds pretty useful. (I can never find their Great Value unsalted-top saltines). On the other hand, who wants to be hounded by a store clerk every time they bump into their ex-, their boss or their cardiologist in Action Alley?
Skreeneo is helping to make retail sales floors safer spaces by introducing the “Smart Safe Station,” said to be the first touchscreen kiosk that balances interaction with safety. The Paris-based company has developed a terminal that has a 24-inch touchscreen that’s covered with SoClean, an anti-viral and anti-bacterial film said to prevent the spread of microorganisms on hands and surfaces. A 3D-camera can count (and help staff regulate) the number of people coming into the store while checking to see if each of these visitors is wearing a mask. As each guest approaches the terminal, a projected light near the bottom turns green, directing their attention to a dispenser of disinfectant lotion that can be distributed without any contact.
LG Electronics is betting that disinfection will become the next big “customer expectation in the new contactless economy.” Last December, the company announced that it was building on core competencies in robotics, AI, autonomous vehicles and customer-needs states to develop an autonomous robot that will use ultraviolet light to disinfect high-touch areas inside retail environments by early 2021. The robot is said to be able to irradiate a room’s touchable surfaces in 15-30 minutes, disinfecting multiple areas on a single battery charge.
Whoops, there goes another part-time job for high-school kids. Late last year, a food-automation platform named Blendid partnered with smoothie-maker Jamba to place robotic “Jamba by Blendid” kiosks inside various Walmarts in California. These food-automation kiosks use machine-learning, robotics, and AI to make a customized smoothie, on-demand, in under three minutes. The newest iteration, in a Fremont Walmart, is said to be completely autonomous. Contactless ordering, payment and pickup is managed via the consumer’s smartphone. The food-operating system (“foodOS”) uses a robotic arm, blenders, a refrigeration system, and numerous dispensers to process up to 45 drinks an hour and nine drinks simultaneously.
The pandemic made Zoom a household name, and it’s been a boon to video chat inside of retail as well. This rapidly evolving medium enables in-store associates to advise, upsell, handhold and otherwise interact one-on-one with online customers. Over the 2020 holiday shopping season, video-platform-provider Go Instore reported that it fielded more than 1 million customer calls. The company also asserts (not surprisingly) that live video chats, where frontline clerks become personal shoppers for customers, can increase conversions by up to 30%. How much staying power this approach will have post-pandemic is unknowable, although it seems likely that for high-ticket items like jewelry and furniture, some retail workforce skillsets will be changed forever.
In January, Landover, Md.-based Giant Food identified 3,100 inventoried products owned by minority-based businesses and began alerting shoppers to them through updated shelf labels at all of its 164 stores. The retailer says that 218 businesses in Giant’s network of vendor partnerships are owned by women, veterans, or representatives of the Black, Asian-Indian, Hispanic, Asian-Paciific or LGBTQ+ communities. Electronic versions of the shelf labels will also be featured on GiantFood.com and on its mobile app in the coming year, along with special supplier pages that will feature storytelling and product spotlights.
Interesting factoid from Mountain View, California-based Quotient, courtesy of its “Ubimo Consumer Survey Report:” More than 90% of consumers are still making a physical shopping trip at least once a week during the pandemic. In mid-February, the company announced the expansion of its In-Lane Digital Promotions at a major drug retailer in the second half of 2021. In-Lane, which is part of Quotient’s Retailer Promotions Platform, uses shopper purchase data to deliver targeted offers and personalized content on customers’ shopping receipts as they are printed. More than 2,000 U.S. brands are already participating in the platform.