Gratterpalm’s Simon Kendrew: why retailers need to make a friend of technology

Simon Kendrew is digital director of Gratterpalm, the Leeds-based UK retail advertising specialist whose clients include Asda, Greggs, Office Depot, Arla Foods and Morphy Richards. Here he explains why there is no such thing as the ‘average shopper’ and why retailers need to embrace technology, like digital in-store screens and smartphone communications, that enable them to build one-to-one relationships with customers.

The modern shopper

With the introduction of smartphone technology, the majority of consumers now have a wealth of information at their fingertips, enabling them to compare prices and read user reviews anytime, anywhere. Online technology is also being used to profile consumers and instantly deliver suggestions to meet their needs. As a result, shoppers are becoming progressively more sophisticated in their demands and expect a personalised service not as an added bonus, but as standard.

The key is for retailers to see technology as a friend, not a foe, and keep on top of the ways in which consumers use it and how it’s altering their expectations, in order to stay one step ahead and continue to drive sales.

Let’s get personal

So where do retailers start? Firstly, the key to modern retail communications is the personal approach. Consumers are increasingly blocking out marketing and advertising messages which they don’t think are relevant to them. Retailers need to understand and empathise with their customers, before offering a relevant individually-tailored solution.

The only way to achieve this level of understanding is through both strategic consumer and shopper insight. Consumer insight at market, retailer, category and brand level, coupled with shopper research to understand the attitudes and behaviours that influence how individuals shop your specific category, enables tailored marketing activity. It’s true that research can be both labour intensive and time-consuming, but there is no short cut to understanding your customer base. Quite simply, the more you put in, the more you get out. Once armed with this insight, there are a number of tools waiting to be explored by forward-thinking retailers.

Going digital

Digital POS technologies in particular have developed enormously over the last few years and now offer solutions that, until recently, retailers would not have thought viable.

Although digital POS is only just beginning to emerge in the UK, this is one technological development that’s here to stay. Its ability to be personalised down to the smallest detail makes it a must-have for the modern retailer.

For example, the screens can be tailored to the time of day, weather, or geographical location of the store. What could be more appropriate for the summer shopper than to be offered a cool drink in an air-conditioned café when the temperature is soaring outside? Furthermore, face detection and demographic analysis can present targeted ads to people, based on their gender and age – and can even recognise whether you are smiling or not.

Digital signage can be controlled in various ways to meet the needs of individual retailers. It can be controlled remotely via a web-based system; by a smartphone, enabling on-the-go updates; or manually by the retailer. There is even the option of fitting sensors, enabling automatic signage updates relating to the weather or time of day.

The ‘F’ Factor

In any discussion on recent technological advances, it would be imprudent to ignore the surge in popularity and widespread use of social media. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow 24/7 contact with friends, family and peers and these social forums offer an opportunity for retailers to present completely personalised recommendations of products.

A message from a retailer, brand or specific store to promote products and services can only go so far in driving sales; what really make the difference and have the ability to sway opinion are the views of friends and family. These impartial messages from a trusted source carry significantly more weight than a message direct from the retailer. Savvy retailers are embracing this trend, so that when shoppers log onto their online stores, they are presented with products that have been liked or recently bought by friends. Allowing shoppers to easily upload and share pictures of themselves trying on clothes to social media sites allows instant validation from friends, compressing the decision–making time and securing the sale there and then.

Looking forward

The last couple of years have been a challenging time for retailers; however, these advances in technology represent a huge opportunity for them to better engage shoppers and to deliver bespoke solutions. If they get it right, there is real potential for retailers to build lasting relationships and, ultimately, to drive sustainable, long term sales.

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