It’s been an undeniably bleak few years for high streets and retail brands. With household names such as Toys R Us, House of Fraser bowing out of the industry, and New Look becoming the latest high street fashion brand to announce a huge slump in sales, retailers are waking up to the realisation that ‘save us’ strategies employed so far are not working. It is increasingly clear that it going to take a drastic overhaul to bring customers back to brick and mortar shopping outlets.
Digital and online technology has so far been the opponent challenging traditional shopping destinations. Retailers now have to find new ways to harness and work with new technology to compete with online suppliers. Many are opting to move more of their sales to digital platforms, but this is not an option for all sellers. Nor is it an option for our towns and cities - without a diverse presence our high streets and shopping centres will become desolate and lifeless.
Retail SOS – Save Our Stores
By making physical shopping an easier, more exciting and all-encompassing experience, retailers can tempt people back in through their doors. We already have established technology changing the way we shop, such as self-service and click and collect. But one development is coming of age which could potentially disrupt the retail experience entirely: indoor navigation.
It’s easy to see how current use of indoor navigation can make the shopping experience that bit easier when it comes to finding one’s way around, but it might be harder to see exactly how the technology can disrupt the experience altogether. How can indoor navigation be enough to encourage people away from their desktops and disrupt the shopping experience as we know it?
Indoor Navigation Technology Comes of Age
WiFi has long been used by retail outlets and shopping malls for indoor navigation, but it does have its limitations in terms of accuracy and reach, therefore leaving little room for further innovation beyond basic navigation. But there are other technologies reaching maturity that savvy retailers can harness to provide an exciting, personalised, immersive experience for customers:
- Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons (BLE) – cheap and low energy consumption, can be used to deliver coupons advertisements, analyse visitor flows
- Visible Light Communication (VLC) – Uses LED and fluorescent lamplight flickers as beacons
- Near Ultra-Sonic Sound - combined with real-time smart-phone processing for to-the-centimetre location accuracy
- Dead Reckoning – maps movements from known starting point obtained via GPS or WiFi
- Camera – ‘Sees’ the location and provides response based on the visual information
Navigation technology providers such as Apple and Google power systems - such as those provided by Buzzstreets or Infsoft - that give a single point of access for all venue information, and can make navigation seamless from outdoor to indoors. This enables retailers to provide location-based push advertising for new products, promotions and discounts, to collect data to create personalised shopping experiences and improve layout and merchandising, check ins and tagging to easily locate friends and family members (or even locate staff members when in need of assistance), and much more.
Data-driven shopping - Customer data can be analysed and monetised in-app in real-time. Enhanced user analytics help organisations deliver better services and improve efficiency. Based on the customer’s movements and purchasing habits recorded, users can be notified offers and new line introductions that match their individual interests. One high profile example is Macy’s New York, which began using ShopBeacon by ShopKick in 2013. Working off of Apple’s iBeacon BLE and VLC technology, customers benefited from shopping points for entering the store. Data from online shopping reminded them to check out a recently viewed item in the flesh, as well as helping them around the store – as well as making contactless payments even easier.
AR enhanced environments - Google ARcore is an example of augmented reality being applied to shopping. Information on products appears as customers pick them up, and users can see the shop layout and what’s inside store before you enter by holding up their phone to the shopfront. This is also hugely beneficial to shoppers with mobility and access concerns.
Transportation and parking – two of the key factors driving people away from city centre shopping are a.) Getting around, and b.) Parking. Car and parking space finders can be enabled via VLC, and real time info on nearby public transport can be provided on the same platform, removing the transport headache and allow them to travel to the shops stress free.
Culture and heritage – Retailers can tap into people’s interests beyond shopping, and bring visitors closer to the history and culture of the high street or site in which they reside. Examples include historical maps and old photos of retail units, and information on their own history as a branch and brand.
Smart Cities and the Future of Shopping
Smart city initiatives are utilising technology for a better experience for the living and visiting public, Modern day retail needs to be part of a broader high tech experience of the town or city centre, and indoor navigation applications like those above can play a big part in that experience.
With the advent of online shopping we are starting to see a resurgence of demand for that that personal, individual focused service aspect that has been lost. With the rise of indoor navigation retailers can optimise the customer experience and provide the missing element that cannot be found online – real connection with their environment and wares, enabled by technology.
— João Fernandes, Founder, Buzzstreets