The Dressing Room: The Final Frontier
In recent years, retailers have aggressively implemented in-store systems to track customers’ every move from the moment they enter till the moment they leave (hopefully including a trip through a checkout lane). Specific details such as how long customers spend in front of a display are also carefully monitored and analyzed. Technology now allows retailers to keep tabs on what customers do in the store almost as rigorously as they follow customer actions online.
Yet one glaring exception to this shedding of light on the mysteries of in-store customer behavior remains – the dressing room. Customers walk into the dressing room with articles of clothing, try them on behind closed doors, and then walk out, possibly buying some, all or none of their selected goods. And most retailers have no insight into any of this activity.
Why the Dressing Room Matters
Conventional retail wisdom dictates that getting customers into the dressing room substantially boosts conversion rates. But better conversion rates are only one benefit retailers can gain from insight into customer dressing room behavior. With real-time insight into what exact items a consumer brings in the dressing room and what items (if any) they purchase, retailers get a much more accurate sense of how effective their assortment and merchandising strategies are.
For example, if customers frequently bring two or three versions of an item and select (or don’t select) a certain color, or tend to select the smallest (or largest) of different sizes, retailers can potentially alter their merchandising and pricing of different variations of that product before the end of the season. When this type of data is paired with individual identification of a customer (such as through a loyalty program or mobile opt-in), a brick-and-mortar retailer gets the type of “shopping cart” view typically reserved for e-commerce sites.
How Technology Can Help
There are several ways retailers can employ leading-edge technology to help navigate the woolly terrain of the dressing room frontier. Chain Store Age has covered the highly automated dressing room process of specialty denimwear retailer Hointer, which uses mobile devices to capture the items customers want to try on and then delivers and retrieves them through automatic chutes, ensuring that Hointer knows precisely what enters the dressing room and what leaves with the customer.
While Hointer’s elaborate, proprietary and automated dressing room system is probably beyond the technical capacity (and budget) of most retailers, the basic idea of having customers request items to try on via mobile phone is effective and in this hypermobile age, fairly simple.
Any type of technology that records what a customer brings into the dressing room, which can include kiosks, scanners and tablets as well as smartphones, provides substantial insight to the retailer and if deployed properly, make the customer’s life easier. Allowing customers to text or email requests for additional items for associates to deliver to the dressing room sheds even more light on the customer’s behavior and decision-making process in the dressing room.
And as mentioned in a recent column, many retailers are starting to tag individual high-end items with RFID tags. This allows retailers to know exactly what items customers bring into the dressing room, bring out, and ultimately buy. Cost likely prohibits the RFID tagging of inexpensive apparel items, but for pricier pieces of clothing this offers about as much insight into the dressing room as retailers will get short of hidden cameras, which we all know are off-limits for numerous reasons of decency, privacy, and the avoidance of massive lawsuits.
What retailers need to know about iBeacon
With approximately 1.5 billion smartphones currently in use today, it is safe to say mobile is radically changing consumer retail behavior. To maximize in-store sales opportunities and minimize hurdles to purchase, retailers must change their approach to reach a new generation of customers steeped in a mobile lifestyle.
But how should retailers best interact with their customers in this new age of mobile? A new innovation from Apple could be one answer: iBeacon.
Released as part of Apples’ iOS 7 launch last year, iBeacon is a positioning system that takes advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy transmitters or beacons (also known as Bluetooth Smart) to enable an iOS device or other hardware to send notifications to iOS devices nearby. By implementing inexpensive beacons (currently selling at three for $99), retailers gain access to a low-maintenance option to provide information directly to a customer’s mobile device, assisting the shopping experience while driving them toward a purchase.
For example, customers who enter a specific store can be greeted with a special offer for being a loyal shopper, or receive a targeted messaging based on their location near a product. Retailers could also provide store maps to a customer’s mobile device, guiding them through the store to products of interest. Or offer discounts on purchases made in-store. The possibilities are endless. Once you understand where your customer is, you can trigger any digital experience for them.
iBeacon and technologies like it can help bridge the gap between a consumer’s mobile and real-world experiences. Today’s in-store customers are often researching prices, product information and comparison shopping on their mobile devices. But what kind of benefits could result if a retailer communicates with a customer via their mobile device while they are shopping? Instead of customers comparing prices on their mobile devices, shoppers would be intrigued by unique, in-store only offers they receive from the retailer.
By leveraging iBeacon, retailers could combat the problem of “showrooming” where customers visit a store to view merchandise but make a purchase from a competitive online retailer — a frequent activity of mobile-equipped shoppers.
Down the road, iBeacon could enable mobile payments at the point of sale (POS) where customers don’t need to remove their wallet or card to make a payment. Apple is positioning itself to be able to deliver a mobile payment experience. It’s not there yet and there are host of complex issues to contend with, but the possibility is real.
It’s important to note that iBeacon is not the only technology solution that enables “proximity marketing.” Other companies like Estimote, Stick N’ Find, and Qualcomm’s Gimble are essentially all competing within the same space: to reach the mobile shopper.
There have been other efforts to better align digital experiences to a physical experience, with bar codes providing product info, augmented reality apps bringing physical products to life, and even valiant efforts from retailers such as Walmart with ‘in-store mode’ mobile apps. All these solutions help to make a shopper’s digital experience match the one they’re having physically. However, beacons do this cheaper, more effectively, and to a far greater degree of accuracy than any other mass-market solution.
How you use beacon technology to enhance your customer’s retail experience is something that will inevitably take months to perfect. If considering implementing your own iBeacon solution, it is important to test beacon location and gauge customer interaction with your tailored beacon experience. Start very small with a basic trial and proceed from there.
The best reason to get started is because your competitors likely will enter the arena soon as well, if they haven’t already. While still in its infancy, the technology’s potential benefits are too great and will eventually become a part of the retail experience. Retailers who perfect the ability to create a seamless purchasing journey for their in-store customers, engaging and interacting with them throughout their shopping experience, should reap the rewards in the years to come.
Joel Blackmore is senior innovations manager at Somo, the world’s largest full-service mobile solutions company.
Content and commerce continue to align at Amazon
Amazon has never been shy about tooting its own horn and the most recent example involves the company’s content engine known as Amazon Studios.
Since launching in November 2010, aspiring screenplay writers have submitted more than 20,000 movie scripts and 6,000 series projects. Amazon recently debuted a second batch of original series and one week later the company is heralding positive feedback from reviewers and customers.
More than 85% of ratings are four or five stars, and critics are calling the pilots “fresh” and “the best pilot in years,” according to the company. In addition, Amazon Instant Video saw more than a 100% increase in the average number of streams per show for prime time pilots and a 200% increase for kid’s pilots per show versus last year’s pilot season.
“Our goal is to create shows that customers will love and we couldn’t be more pleased with the feedback we’ve received so far,” said Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios. “It’s great to see our customers reacting so passionately towards these pilots. The dramatic increase in the average number of streams for our prime time and kid’s pilots tells us we’re on the right path in creating shows our customers want to watch.”
All 10 pilots are currently available for any customer to view, rate and provide feedback on, ultimately helping determine which shows will become full series. The pilots are available to watch exclusively at www.amazonoriginals.com and on the Amazon Instant Video app for Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and other connected devices.
Amazon Studios continues to invite series creators to upload their proposals for comedy and children’s programming at http://studios.amazon.com/getting-started/series or submit them privately via Amazon Studios.