Today mobile phones are one of the key sources for retailers to build better connection with their customers through which they can provide them a personalised and better brand experience. These technologies are useful not only for the e-commerce players, but also for the bricks-and-mortar stores. A study reveals that around 63 per cent of the consumers depends on their cell phones for shopping in-store where they can compare prices, explore different offers, coupons, etc. Moreover, almost 49 per cent of the retailers also use mobile phones to enhance the in-store shopping experience. Let’s dive into the world of these technologies which are assisting retailers in transforming the experience of their customers.
QR Codes (Quick Response) are machine-readable codes in the form and patterns that can be scanned to view the hidden information. These generally can direct users to the web address and links, but today these are often being used by retailers in response to the increasing concerns of sustainability, transparency and security. The demand to have full knowledge about the garment and the sustainability practices has put these retailers in an immediate position to come up with the technology that could solve these issues. The market has developed RFID-enabled tags that can be scanned to know the full details of a garment. These are generally printed on the products and when these tags are scanned using a barcode reader, the hidden information related to that product is revealed. The working of these depends on the patterns like black squares and dots that have certain piece of information in it. These codes are machine scannable and can be scanned by a smartphone, translating few information that can be understood by the humans.
These QR codes are being used by the retailers to enhance the shopping experience and provide them the transparency about the garment supply chain. Many retailers are today using these codes on the garment label tag, which the consumers can scan using their mobile phones to get the detail of the garment starting from the raw materials to retail shelves. These are being used in the concept called Blockchain transparency, which we have also discussed in our previous issues. All the information can be traced by the customers by scanning the QR code in the tags.
Another use of the technology is in the concept of BOPIS where the customers can pick their orders through the self-pick up machines. The customers place an order and when their order is ready they receive a code or QR code. On reaching the stores, the customers can scan these codes into the machines. The machines then process these codes to retrieve the information about the customer package and then deliver it to them without any human intervention.
These codes are running successfully in the industry majorly owing to the accuracy that they provide. Also, the scanners for these codes are today easily available in the mobile phones of the customers; they have to just download the app, open it and place it in front of the scanners. The scanner decodes all the information related to that product and gets it displayed on the mobile phones of the customers. Today, most of the retailers, be it small or big, have been using the technology as these are the most convenient and easy to use. The biggest fashion and clothing retailer Zara added QR codes to their clothing labels, which could be scanned to get the manufacturing details of the product. This could also inform customers about different colours and sizes available in the product range.
Similarly, in 2018 Decathlon introduced Scan & Go app that helped people skip the long queue at Decathlon stores. Customers with the app can scan the tags of the products, which directs them to the product detail and an option to add to cart. Following this, the customers get the option to make the payment online, and then they receive a code that is scanned while exiting the store. This refrains them from standing in the long checkout queue. In practice, the brand encountered difficulties, because whenever the mobile internet is slow inside the shop, the app faced some problems even with the free Wi-Fi. The company is very well aware of the scenario and is working at solutions that can fix this problem.
NFC (Near Field Communication)
NFC, a technology that allows two devices to communicate with each other when they are placed together. Similar to QR codes, this technology can be used to retrieve information and make payments. The technology works on NFC chips that have to be present in both payment and the reader devices. Few of the examples are Apple Pay and Android Pay.
Retailers use NFC for various applications starting from information retrieval, payment options and now for the marketing purpose. Customers need to have an NFC-enabled device to utilise the technology benefit, which is considered a challenge for the retailer. However, due to the increasing awareness and technological advancement, most of the fashion brands are launching NFC-enabled device.
Today, the technology is also being used for the marketing purpose as well. The tool allows the brands to connect with their customers instantly. Also, the analytical capabilities of this technology help to collect consumer insights and behaviour.
Brands are embracing the technology in many different ways; Moncler, the luxury Italian-French fashion house, has used NFC as an advanced digital solution against counterfeiting. The brand launched its chic ‘puffer’ jacket to stem the rising tide of fraudsters, especially in China. These jackets had special NFC tags which while scanning, using an app in their smartphones, confirm the authenticity of a product, enabling an interactive and effective verification procedure. These tags are embedded in the garment just like the brand logo. Through this initiative, the brand aims to create transparency and protection in all aspects.
Another example is of Ralph Lauren, where the brand took the initiative to promote Polo Ralph Lauren product line suing NFC posters. The brand displayed these posters with NFC stickers on the display window of Harrods, a luxury retail store. These tags had the map of Harrods that assisted the customers to navigate directly to the section where Ralph Lauren collections were located.
Augmented Reality (AR) needs no introduction! This concept is increasingly becoming famous in today’s fashion industry. The concept works on creating an illusion by placing AR virtual objects against a real object in such a way that occupies the same space. Fashion retailers use AR to enhance the customers’ experience of shopping and getting a better and almost real view of the product even before buying it. The virtual trial rooms are the best examples of AR implementation in the stores and GAP being the best example of it. The company’s “Dressing Room” app uses AR, where the shoppers can try their collections even when they are not in the store.
The app starts functioning by asking few information about the customers, such as their height and weight, and then lets them visualise how different items would fit them. The applications create a 3D model on which these garments can be viewed for size and options. Also, the users can directly purchase the garment from the app if they like it. The application was built in collaboration with Google and San Francisco-based start-up Avametric in 2017.
Zara, in 2018, introduced AR experience for its customers in seven of its United State and 120 worldwide stores. The Zara AR app lets customers view the designs on virtual models that can even move to show the realistic view of the dress. The customers can point their phones at the aforementioned shop window, as well as “via in-store podiums, on boxes they receive delivering online purchases and via dedicated images at zara.com,” and models Léa Julian and Fran Summers are brought to life for 7- to 12-second sequences. The look can be ordered directly from the app or through the stores depending on the customer preference.
Retailers today are using many different applications starting from ‘Virtual Try’ on 3D products to ‘Brand Awareness’. The 3D virtual view of the product is also helping to eliminate the barrier that the e-commerce players are facing in providing a real view of the product. The best example is the Ikea Place ARKit app that answers the questions related to the fitting and the look of the product in the actual space. Using the app, customers can fit the 3D virtual furniture anywhere they want to place their furniture in home. This lets them have the actual idea of how will that look and fit in the place they want to.
Beacon are small devices that transmit Bluetooth signals to the nearby smartphones. These identifiers can send signals which can be used to determine the physical location of the device, track customers or trigger a location-based action on the device such as check-in on social media or a push notification. In context of retail, beacon reaches out to the customers that have Bluetooth and the right app downloaded on their phones.
The technology allows these app and smartphones to receive signals from the beacon devices in the proximity space. These signals deliver certain content, which majorly consists of advertisements sent through small packets of data. The communication made via these devices is one way and the receivers are not allowed to reply.
The retailers are using the technology to create a more personalised experience for their customers, thereby retaining the existing and building new customers. The various applications include advertising, personalised shopping experience, re-targeting retailers’ strategies using the actual data insights. It helps monitoring the time spent by customers on each product inside the store, and also how often he or she lingers beside particular products.
Few of the US-based retailers have already implemented the technology and are reaping rich dividends. The US multichannel fashion and homeware retailer Urban Outfitters has used the technology at 15 of their stores located in different cities of the country. The technology works when a shopper first enters the store; a push notification prompts users to check-in via social media to unlock offers. Shoppers are prompted to take selfies and post them on Instagram with the hashtag #UOonYou for a chance to be featured on Urban Outfitters’ website. Also, shoppers during registration may get a push notification promoting them to shake their phones to show the Urban ID – a loyalty card – and earn a digital badge.
American Eagle Outfitters has also installed beacon in more than 100 locations in collaboration with Shopkick. The installation of shopBeacon enables users of the app to receive message upon entering a store and as they walk around inside the store. Initial findings show that the percentage of Shopkick users who visited the fitting room area to try on clothes was more than double for those who received a beacon-enabled incentive offer versus for those users that did not.