Published in Jul-Aug 2015
The adage that “the only thing that is constant is change” aptly fits the digital world around us. Every day, new technology is introduced and new apps are developed. When I first came across the concept of a 3D printer, I thought this could not be possible, until I researched how the process worked. Coming across a 3D printer which can create makeup was epic!
One sector where technology is playing a growing role is digital retail. For example, I recently came across an interesting concept at Argos – the UK retail store. There was absolutely no merchandise in the store! Walk into the store and you only find digital display screens and the Argos merchandise catalogue (in print and digital format). Customers sift through the catalogues, place their order on a digital display screen, collect their goods from the counter – and the purchase is complete. The retail space only hosts the ordering area and the warehouse next to it. The catalogues are also home delivered to customers who want to do their purchasing online; they can then either go and collect their order or have it delivered to their doorstep. Under this model, retailers save space, cost and the hassle of running a store, and in this case it means that Argos can have a pop-up digital retail store anywhere they want.
|At Argos, customers sift through the catalogues, place their order on a digital display screen, collect their goods from the counter and the purchase is complete.|
A model like the Argos Digital Retail Store works for retailers who have a long established reputation, and it is for this reason that companies which are big on brand equity would thrive on such a concept. I would think Ikea would do very well with this concept.
The Argos example reinforces the fact that purchasing patterns have significantly evolved. In our parents’ time, before buying anything, they would touch the product, talk to the sales person and make a calculated decision. Our generation has started to embrace both online shopping and banking, and going by the way our kids are hooked to technology, shopping online will be second nature to them – which is why retail giants such as Argos are preparing themselves for that behavioural shift change.
Another interesting example is the Amazon Dash/Wand, which is a Wi-Fi handheld device that syncs with the Amazon Fresh account. The customer uses the Dash/Wand to scan the bar codes of items of regular household use and the device will then order these items as well as auto prompt a restock from Amazon Fresh (fresh.amazon.com/dash/). For Amazon this translates into an extension of their delivery network, giving brands a way to get even closer to their customers, thereby ensuring they remain constantly stocked and decreasing the chances of a competitor filling that space in the customer’s mind. However, if the concept makes ordering extremely easy, the challenge lies in how quickly and accurately Amazon responds to their customers’ orders and how good the after sales customer service is. If the customer does not physically come to the store, customer loyalty becomes dependent on how well the technology delivers.
|Amazon Dash/Wand is a Wi-Fi handheld device that syncs with the Amazon Fresh account.|
This kind of technology helps customers buy what they need without disrupting their day. As technology integrates more fully with customer needs, brands will have to create their own space within people’s digital lives – and this is likely to become a necessity, rather than a niche requirement. The flip side to getting the customer hooked to virtual stores is that it becomes increasingly difficult to target audiences in terms of exactly what they are looking for. General advertising will not work once the customer has the competency to undertake a virtual shop. The right content, product appeal, platform selection and timing will play an even more important role in gaining customer attention, and the challenge for digital strategists is to create relevant and time appropriate advertising messages and placement selections.
In such situations, I would put brand purchase contact points into three spheres (before a purchase).
When idle: Customer may not be actively looking for a brand, yet the brand needs to subconsciously create an association with them. This is where contextual marketing and an ‘always on’ digital presence strategy plays an important role.
At home: Create brand assets on your digital platform that provide in-depth information about your brand, usage, USPs, etc. This will help customers ease into a purchase when they are looking up a brand. This is where ‘search and display’ strategies should be in place.
At the store: This is critical as the purchase will either happen or not. If the customer decides to do a quick scan about a brand on the internet, there is very little time to gain his or her attention. At this point, the information should be easy to find, clear and accurate. SEO and SEM strategies, call centre or quick info should be available.
As the retail experience becomes technologically more advanced, digital advertising needs to be even more focused. Targeting a consumer who is digitally savvy, knows how to explore and shop online, is a challenge and a robust digital strategy needs to be in place that covers platforms, message, content and a paid media strategy.
Although the digital retail examples given above have yet to reach Pakistan, ecommerce is becoming an accepted way to make regular purchases and for the next generation digital retail will increasingly be the norm.
To be ready for this new set of shoppers, brands need to give serious attention to creating their digital footprint, develop clear digital strategies, establish virtual information hubs and be present wherever their customer is.
Amna Khatib-Paracha is Head of Digital, GroupM Connect. email@example.com