Discovering the Holy Grail of Retail: Online-Offline Convergence
Sena Zorlu, Instapio
Over the past years, retailers have been investing into digital transformation, creating online stores and making their brick and mortar locations smarter. On the startup side, there has been a massive growth of retail technology companies in multiple areas to improve operations, cut costs and bring in more customers.
There’s no Magical Solution
Today there are multiple solutions that claim online and offline convergence. These are mainly:
- Data Management Platforms that will tie online and mobile identities to retailer’s offline data (CRM, POS, Loyalty) to provide historical view.
- Mobile Attribution and Retargeting platforms that will understand when mobile users are in your stores and retarget them with timely and relevant information.
- iBeacons that will help you communicate with your app users in granular proximity.
- Guest WiFi that requires social login or email that can be tied to your CRM.
It is very confusing for retailers to understand what solution to invest in when the common value proposition is the same: we will bring you the holy grail; we will connect online with offline. However, the main problem with all these technologies is that they are lab technologies. They work perfectly in controlled environments where every condition is met. Well if all your customers download your mobile application and they turn on their bluetooth and they open the application and they stand next to this sensor than the technology works. Retailers are promised an amazing connected world where they have full control of their customers yet when these solutions are installed, the results don’t come near what was promised. This is why there are so many POC’s but so little mass deployments of technologies.
Retailers need to understand that today, technologies that promise to connect them to customers are still in preliminary stages of growth. This is because there are pre-conditions for these technologies to work and consumers rarely act the way we aspire them to. The costs and efforts associated with having every customer download and not delete a mobile application are astronomical. Even when you bear the costs, app store discoverability is really difficult and consumers are app tired, looking for a reason to delete an app. When a technology is not adopted by the masses, your results will be skewed because of the small usage base. Any A/B testing or campaign on a small sample size will lead for wrong strategy. Another blocker with mobile technologies is the device manufacturers themselves. Mobile based technologies use sensors and features within the mobile phone which puts the retail industry at the mercy of the manufacturers. So when a manufacturer decides to turn off location collection from mobile applications, your investment into mobile attribution may sink overnight.
Which retail technologies will win?
To be able to understand what is going on in the store environment, retailers need better data generation than what exists today. In order to take real time responsive action the way ecommerce sites can do, retailers need access to real time, contextual data that can speak with existing systems they have. Mobile apps do not fill the void of collecting this data. Meaningful information can only be collected with sensory technologies that will passively collect data from a large sample. The first result of this trend has been in-store analytics. In-store analytics has presented a better picture of what is going on in the store and help understand the funnel that leads to purchases. The next wave of technology is to improve what we can do with this sensory data. Historical analytics is nice to have but will not magically save retailers. The next wave of retail technology will come as software layer that sits on top of sensory information and will affect all operations from merchandising, real time campaigns, personalization, staffing and everything else.
So what can retailers do today?
One thing we know for sure is that consumer behavior is rapidly changing and brick and mortar retailers must adapt to the changes demanded by customers. Retailers must be educating themselves with new technologies and changing consumer behavior. Big box stores have built lab environments to test new technologies, the easiest thing smaller retailers can do is to dedicate one store, preferably near their headquarters as their lab environment. They can be open to testing new technologies rapidly and choose best startups that can act with a real store rather than doing a fancy presentation or a demo.
Retailers need to be in the conversation of emerging technologies. There are many technology startups like us who are working for the core problems that retailers are facing today. Whatever the retailer’s size may be, a lot of startups will be open to testing and working with them to solve specific industry problems. Small and medium sized retailers can become more innovative by becoming part of the solution. Building internal teams, dedicating test stores, working intimately with startups, having leadership teams advise retail tech startups are just some of the things retailers can start with that won’t require significant budgets.
What we are working on
At Instapio, we have been working on unifying different identities customers have to paint a clear picture of what is happening in the store and bring aggregated insight to help retailers. Our goal from the first day was to bring the automagical aspects of online to the physical world. It’s a big challenge and there is no one shot solution to create it. It requires collecting and merging of data from multiple assets, unifying different identities, making all the data talk in the same language and delivering it to the retailer in a format that can be used. This is why we are building an ecosystem around bringing all this sensory information together and make it available to talk to management systems in real time. We are working closely with the Advancing Retail platform, very excited to learn and help solve brick and mortar business challenges.
About the Author
Instapio is a Silicon Valley based technology company specialized in intelligent environments. It was founded by a seasoned team of entrepreneurs who come from management consulting, software and telecom backgrounds. The company was launched with strategic investment in November 2014. Instapio’s technology is being used in 3 continents and by 8 Fortune 500 companies.
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