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The changing face of the store
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Despite today’s massive proliferation of mobile and online channels, the reality is that the majority of purchasing decisions are still being made in-store. In South Africa, in-store is the second most powerful channel after radio, reaching 89,7% of the SA population. (OMD Media Facts, 2011).

So it's not surprising that FMCG brands are still placing a lot of emphasis on their in-store presence, however, they now need to re-think how they can entice today's increasingly sophisticated and connected shopper in a relevant way. A shopper who now expects a seamless experience between online, mobile and in-store browsing and shopping.

It is through embracing technology that many brands and retailers have successfully started to break down the barriers between physical, online and mobile channels.

This is evidenced by the many mobile apps that have been launched recently, such as Kraft's Ifood app that brings consumers food inspiration on the go. In addition, many brands have brought technology to the store to enhance the shopping experience. One such example can be found at selected Dischem stores, where Colgate now lets consumers navigate its product range via interactive touch screens on the product shelf, helping them find out what toothpaste best fits their personal dental needs.

The Canadian Metro supermarket takes it even one step further. In the aisles, shoppers can navigate recipes by category, ingredient or by scanning the bar code of a product off the shelf via self-service menu kiosks. They can print the recipe or transfer it to their mobile phone.  

Other brands have added virtual reality to the mix to create the ultimate immersive in-store experience. In Japan, Nike lets shoppers customise their shoes in-store via the NikeiD Generator that scans their clothes to create a personal colour shade. The customer then takes this to the NikeiD Studio. Similar technology is used at Macy's magic fitting room in NYC, which transposes virtual clothes over the shopper's reflection in the mirror.

This reveals that the old one-way style of communication from brand to consumer is now being replaced by a two-way dialogue between brand and consumer.  This repositions the store from a mainly transaction-based environment to a richer, experiential environment in which the virtual world enhances the physical brand experience.  

The exciting part for marketers is that the technology provides them with in-depth and often real-time insight into in-store and in-aisle navigation patterns, product preferences and interactions. This in turn enables them to effectively optimise their campaigns and tune their offering to individual shopping preferences and behaviours at any given time and place.

Clearly the winners in this fast changing retail environment will be those brands that manage to effectively combine the best of both worlds, the agility and intelligence of new technology with the 'real' sensory experience of the brick and mortar environment. This perspective calls for treating the store as one integrated element within the holistic customer journey, a journey that begins well before shoppers enter the physical store and continues long after they leave.


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