The Top Four Technologies from Shop.org 2017

The Top Four Technologies from Shop.org 2017

Shop.org 2017, the NRF conference focused on e-Commerce, went down last week. MJD was there both as a participant in the renowned Tech Lab, as well as a group of digital retail geeks excited to check things out. Here’s what we found.

Tech Lab was definitely a highlight of the conference. It allowed attendees to experience “technologies of the future” via custom-designed simulations in the store, home, and office. Visitors had a chance to talk directly with startup founders about how their technologies will transfer from the lab to the showroom and full retail stack. To curate the lab, the NRF carefully selected twenty-five emerging technologies that best represent the entire purchase experience including product development, shopper consideration, customer engagement, purchase and post-purchase experience and more. MJD was selected as the sole digital innovation agency to show retailers how to build digital products and experiences that fulfill their brand promise and give them a competitive edge in the hotly contested retail space.

Following are four technologies that we could see making an impact in retail over the next couple years.

Aila

Interactive Kiosk

The majority of retailers continue to display products on shelves with only a tiny amount of valuable product information. A couple of the reasons for Amazon’s success is that you can read reviews on products and view how-to videos. That’s tough to do on a physical shelf, but a kiosk with a barcode scanner is a good solution to give customers the information they need to make a purchase. Aila adds additional optics and lighting to an off the shelf iPad, which then enables retailers to build very user-friendly scanning apps on top of iOS. A custom app with Aila’s kiosk hardware is the best possible combination for building a middle of aisle or end of aisle barcode scanning kiosk that we have yet seen.

Visa and Payscout

Interactive VR Checkout

Payscout VR Commerce allows users to buy physical products inside virtual reality experiences. It’s the first implementation of this technology that we’ve seen that starts to remove the friction of buying in the VR environment. The trick is that you set up a Visa Checkout account before going into the virtual world. This allows the application to show you product, place it in a cart, and then easily checkout. Most VR shopping apps miss badly at the checkout because there isn’t currently a good user interface inside the goggles for entering all the personal information and credit card data required to check out. From Visa:

“The process is fairly simple, but the possibilities with it are endless. With virtual reality, users can shop at a variety of merchant locations without actually visiting the stores. They can pick up products and get a feel for size, color, and dimensions while wearing a VR headset. The only thing they cannot experience is the tangible elements of the product, like the material it is made of or how much it weighs.”

Augment

SDK and Platform to add AR to retail shopping apps

Apple themselves have used their last two product unveiling events to hype Ikea’s new augmented reality application. Augment is a company that is helping bring that functionality to anyone. Augment includes an SDK and platform that allows a retailer to add augmented reality 3D objects to any application. They also offer a 3D view for web e-commerce. This is a great way for retailers to begin prototyping AR technologies.

Slyce

Visual Search

Let’s say you’re walking around on a crowded city sidewalk and you spot some sneakers that you just love. Slyce allows you to use your phone’s camera to scan the shoes and tell you who makes them, what style they are, and where to buy them. This also works in print catalogs and photos.

This was a really cool tool that bridges the gap between being inspired by a product you see and actually purchasing it. Slyce is signing up retailers left and right, so look for this app to make big waves in retail.

Conclusion

It was a good year for technology innovation at Shop.org, but it did leave us wanting something more. Most of the technology could be classified as a digital tactic, rather than a strategic plan to really disrupt retail. We’re currently working with clients to create digital products and experiences to fulfill their brand promise and tell a compelling story rather than just follow the crowd into the digital jungle. Following tech trends often leads to spending a boatload of money on technology that just doesn’t resonate with customers. The success we’ve been having with clients like American Girl, GoPro, Electrolux and The Container Store all deliver on combining digital with physical spaces to capture imaginations. Doing that leads to customers falling ever deeper in love with their favorite brands, and that is a great way for us to not only compete with threats like Amazon, but win.

If that sounds interesting to you, please get in touch. We’d love to help you change the world of retail.

Click here for more information on MJD’s Digital Retail Offering.

P.S. I got to meet Tyra Banks and she is absolutely delightful.


The “Future of Retail”: Fulfilling Prophesies? Or Promises?

The “Future of Retail”: Fulfilling Prophesies? Or Promises?

MJD recently completed a comprehensive research study on the “Future of Retail” that included focus groups, surveys, the review of 64 articles, 14 Powerpoint decks, 16 white papers, and 2 additional research studies.

There is a lot of agreement on what the future holds. According to almost everyone, it includes at least the following 8 items:

  • Omnichannel
  • “Wow Factor” Store Design & Experiences
  • Mobile Apps
  • Artificial Intelligence/Big Data
  • Mobile Payment
  • Personalization
  • Click-and-Collect
  • Geolocation
  • Augmented/Virtual Reality

It seems that the “Future” is pretty much the same for everyone. And that is a problem.

If everyone is building the same future, how is any retailer going to differentiate, disrupt and eventually win?

The answer: It is all about getting back to the brand promise. Brand promise is the soul of a brand. It’s the one thing that people think of when they hear the company name:

  • Patagonia = The Environment
  • The Container Store = Organization
  • Target = Style & Value
  • Disney = Happiness
  • American Girl = Girl Empowerment

How do you build a future around that?

Keeping Your Promise

You’re not going to win in digital retail if you’re just following trends and feature sets. Will omnichannel, experiential store design, a mobile app, or artificial intelligence work for you? They just might! The likelihood of their success, however, is greatly increased when you focus on how those features fulfill your brand promise to your customers. A great way to communicate that promise is through experiences that bridge digital and physical environments, with emphasis on warm, human interaction.

High experience brands outperform the S&P 500 by 200%1

Great retailers put customers at the center of everything they do. The best retailers set that customer up as the hero in their shared experience. If you buy an organic cotton shirt from Patagonia, you are a hero for the environment. This experience is established in their stores with signage, catalogs, and their activist floor staff. It is told digitally on their website, blog, YouTube channel, and more. In our forthcoming work for The Container Store, we are setting up their customer as the hero of organization. They will use help from the brand to enable them to tackle any organization challenge in their life. This will be accomplished through both store design and interactive digital tools. In our work with American Girl we designed and built “Create Your Own”, a digital tool that gives young girls a chance to be the hero when creating a custom, personalized doll complete with their own personality and story. Their flagship stores have been designed with space for digital customization kiosks that allow girls to create their custom doll in a collaborative environment, which adds to the fun.

Strategy, Not Buzzwords

You might notice the lack of the typical retail buzzwords in what we just advised. We’ve described an experience rather than features or tactics. That is purposeful. You need to get the strategy for the experience, and the fulfilled brand promise right – before you identify the digital tools that will help execute that strategy. American Girl’s ‘Create Your Own’ happens to rely heavily on Omnichannel, “Wow Factor” experience, mobile payments, and personalization, but those weren’t the starting point. We didn’t follow the crowd, looking for a use for those things. We imagined an experience that fulfills and deepens the customer’s love for the brand, and then we identified the technology needed to pull it off.

We also tested the heck out of it. We started with field research, going into homes to see what digital tools moms and daughters use every day. We studied how they play. We kept notes on the apps and websites they visit and what kind of design and experience they enjoyed, or hated. Every part of the user experience and interface design was tested with the people that would actually be using the product. Prototypes were created to get quantitative answers on what was working, or not. Focus groups were formed to give us the qualitative answers to how they were feeling while creating their custom doll and personality. It really can’t be emphasized enough how important testing is for a successful product. It’s the only thing, other than blind luck, that keeps you from building expensive features that just won’t get used.

Be the Hero

If you’re a retailer looking to come out of the “retail apocalypse” a hero, stop following the buzzword-laden trend reports. Concentrate on your brand promise. Communicate it to your customers through digital products and experiences that include a human touch. The technology needed to do that effectively will become clear as you test, iterate and execute your strategy.


Make It Pop! How to Build a Great Pop-Up Shop

Make It Pop! How to Build a Great Pop-Up Shop


By: Jeremy Duimstra

We’re always on the lookout for new ideas that will benefit our retail clients without mimicking trends that everyone else is already doing. Pop-Up Shops seem to be showing up everywhere in the retail space. This particular trend is one that we feel can be differentiated and wildly successful for retailers who use them as a highly effective retail testing platform.

Pop-Up Shops are a great idea in today’s retail ecosystem. There is significant empty retail real-estate right now, and landlords are much more willing to take on short-term leases than in the past. Retailers are generally looking to increase overall store traffic and brand affinity. These shops do just that. Pop-Up shops drive brand affinity by creating experiences that strengthen the relationship with each customer. Lesser known brands can use Pop-Up shops to inexpensively break into new markets and establish brand awareness.

New digital technologies have the power to enhance the experience and value of your Pop-Up. From shopper data capture for re-marketing to mobile app powered geolocation commerce experiences – digital experiences are powering the modern Pop-Up. With new, modern retail technology platforms and omni-channel commerce systems like Shopify and Square, launching a digitally enabled pop-up is a must for any retailers looking to offer unique customer experiences.

Some key factors that go into creating an effective Pop-Up Shop:

  • Unique, on-brand digital experiences draw in people and capture their attention. Narratives brought to life with motion graphics, touchscreen displays, and VR/AR experiences are good examples.
  • An easy to launch and use POS. This doesn’t need to integrate into your legacy ecommerce or ERP systems – speed and ease of use are key.
  • Ecommerce “activation” within your Pop-Up.  Go beyond a transaction – make purchasing a fun and interactive experience. Engaging product demos and unexpectedly convenient shipping options make all the difference.
  • Mobile Loyalty experiences: Consider exclusive geolocation product drops or personalized experiences for customers that are part of your loyalty program. Extend special offers to loyalty members after the Pop-Up to amplify your reach and content.
  • Tie your customer data capture into your Salesforce or Hubspot CRM systems for easy follow up marketing.
  • Speed: Pop-Ups give you localized speed in getting products in customer’s hands that can’t easily be matched by competitors.

Let’s go a bit deeper into a few of these experiences:

Nike's “Rio Unlimited” engages visitors with an on-brand digital art installation exuding "the ecstasy of competitive glory."

Brand Promise

It is extremely important to include your brand promise in a Pop-Up Shop rather than just creating something cool and full of whiz-bang technology. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go too in-depth here, but there is a tremendous opportunity to craft an experience in a Pop-Up that accentuates and furthers what you stand for as a brand. A Pop-Up that relies only on hot new technology will fail if it does not resonate with your customer. The experiences that are compelling for your customers may or may not include new technology such as AR/VR, Magic Mirrors, Instant Checkout – the list goes on. The technology you choose to use should help you tell your brand story, delight your customer, and create a frictionless purchasing path. These things are essential both within the shop itself and throughout the entire customer journey.

The Customer Journey

Before the Store

A great Pop-Up Shop will engage your guests at each step in their customer journey. Before the shop experience, they need to hear about it, be incentivized to visit, get excited about it, and hopefully share it with their friends and family. These things can happen via your website, your mobile app, social channels, on-and-offline marketing and ideally through some buzz-worthy guerrilla marketing. The Nike’s Maker’s of the Game Pop Up Store during the 2018 All-Star Weekend used their mobile app to tease the Air Jordan “Tinker” exclusive sneaker and dropped them at a specified time and location. Upon finding the shoes, customers used the app to complete the purchase, and share their score with legions of other Nike fans.

In-Store

While in the store we find that customers love two types of technology: Personalized digital experiences, and software/hardware that allows frictionless purchasing. We’re also finding that adding a human element to digital tools can greatly enhance the experience. When you give customers the ability to describe a challenge they are experiencing, and use that challenge to customize a product that will solve their problem before they arrive at the store – you create an unforgettable experience. The digital tools that we’ve built and are currently testing are proving that this method improves customer satisfaction and increases revenue.

The ability to purchase things quickly is also crucial while in the shop. Technology can help in this arena. Many clients that we work with have legacy POS or e-Commerce engines that don’t work effectively in a Pop-Up environment. A Pop-Up shop can be a place for retailers to experiment and play with new ideas. Generally, we recommend using off-the-shelf solutions like Square or Masterpass to enable transactions in a Pop-Up rather than shoe-horning enterprise systems into this environment.

After Store

After shopping it is vital to follow up with customers using loyalty programs, invite them to share the experience, and make it clear how they can return items. Having an established return policy is important. Customers worry that Pop-Up shops will disappear and they will be stuck with what they bought. This can lead them to not make a purchase at all. Giving customers the option to return items easily and free of charge will abate those fears.

Speed

Speed, in our opinion, is the primary driving force behind innovative disruption in retail. Amazon is faster than almost anyone else at getting things to your doorstep as soon as you buy. However, being physically there is even faster than that. This is a significant reason why two-thirds of millennials shop in stores every week. That said, it’s hard to “be physically there” everywhere, and a Pop-Up Shop can help with that. Interested in testing a new market? Pop-Up. Wondering what would happen if you sold a single product line right down the street from your existing store? Pop-Up. You get the picture. Pop-Ups give you tremendous speed in getting in front of your customers and getting them products. 

Indochino Pop-Ups epitomize Omni-channel by measuring customers in-store and letting them complete their purchase online.

Technology

From a technology standpoint, we recommend using software platforms that are API driven. Pop-Ups are prototype testing opportunities, and that includes the software. Luckily, almost all modern systems have APIs that make it easy for POS/e-Commerce/Inventory/Loyalty/etc. to talk to each other. If you’re thinking that what I just described sounds a lot like the golden goose that we’re all striving for – omnichannel – you’re right! A Pop-Up is a fantastic place to test omnichannel experiences outside of what is likely a more rigid corporate IT environment. We’ve had great success building omnichannel experiences for retailers in a test shopping environment that eventually get rolled out to the broader enterprise.

In Summary

As a digital innovation agency, we have always put a significant emphasis on designing, prototyping, and testing fast/early/often. Pop-Up Shops are the epitome of that philosophy in physical retail locations. When done well, wrapped in your brand promise, outfitted with applicable digital technology, and speedy, they can show you the path to success in all of your store locations. If you’re interested in creating a Pop-Up, drop us a line. We are currently working with multiple store design, architecture firms, and general contractors on building Pop-Ups around the country, and we’d love to help you do the same.