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By: ALEX LINDSTROM

Engaging Fickle Shoppers at the Shelf with Digital Solutions

Traditional retail has long been dominated by experienced managers and other decision leaders, but also gut instinct, intuition, and even plain old luck.

Why? There just wasn’t always a lot of data or readily available information to go off of. How exactly do you know what customers are interested in other than by simply asking them or looking at sales figures and point-of-sale data after the fact, then doing your best to infer patterns?

Customer surveys, while useful, have never been exactly popular, and increasingly, shoppers don’t typically make time to complete them, even when incentives are offered to do so. Additionally, surveys can take weeks or even months to complete, making it difficult to react in a timely manner. 

Indeed, market conditions change so rapidly that what was true one quarter, may very well flip on its head come the next; if anything has served as a stark reminder of that market reality, it has been the challenges of the last several years.

Between a rise in disruptive climatological events, supply chain woes, labor shortages, projected market instability, and rapidly shifting consumer needs and preferences, retailers today require every bit of competitive advantage available to them.

Adjusting to Ever-Changing Needs

Even though brick-and-mortar still accounts for most of all purchases in the retail sector (85% according to the U.S. Department of Commerce), recent events have made it clear that traditional retailers need to rapidly evolve in response to the rise of eCommerce. 

The reason why is relatively simple: eCommerce’s growing market share—and the way in which people had to rely on it during the lockdowns—has caused a rapid shift in consumer expectations around convenience, speed, transparency, and personalization. 

In other words, even though most consumers are still purchasing in-store, what they expect out of a shopping experience has trended toward advantages offered by eCommerce.

So, how does one merge the immediacy and experiential qualities of brick-and-mortar with the algorithmic personalization and flexibility of eCommerce? In brief, the answer is to execute a long-term strategy for the digital transformation of your operations.

Yet, how do you commit to a digital transformation in a traditional brick-and-mortar store aisle? How do you digitize what is basically just product placements and aluminum shelving in a way that customers can see and interact with such that it enhances their customer experience? 

Digital Shelving: Much More than a Lightshow

Thanks to recent innovations in in-store display and data-gathering technologies, an answer to those questions is now available in the form of digital campaign management, messaging, and advertising that can be implemented (and interacted with) right  in the store aisle. 

The company to first pioneer this type of dynamic, digital in-store marketing, SES-imagotag, released VUSION Engage, a product system and service that “connects retailers and brands to deliver digital campaigns in physical stores.”

Notes Scott Soong, Senior Executive Vice President of SES-imagotag, “We invented electronic shelf labels. These are wireless, connected, battery-operated IoT devices that sit on the store shelf and that help to drive store efficiency whether via price optimization, price automation, or click and collect services.” 

“In other words, we facilitate all of these new ways that the customers are shopping and bring them all together into one service called VUSION,” Soong continues, furthermore explaining that these cloud-based devices create opportunities for cross-sales that previously wouldn’t have been possible with no real way to efficiently present the information to the customer. 

To boot, VUSION has already seen notable success: “We are currently operating in 35,000 stores across the globe,” notes Soong. This growth is projected to continue as the consumer shifts generated by the lockdown period only furthered that need for in-store digitization.

The capabilities of this kind of ‘smart shelving’ are wider than one might initially suspect. This is due to the technology powering these IoT devices and the way they can interact with other modern data gathering and processing systems, especially now that wireless, in-store internet has become so ubiquitous and fast.

What this speed and processing power translates to is real-time communication with other critical data points, allowing for an on-the-fly adjustment of in-store campaigns to meet emergent needs to a level of precision that traditional retail was never previously capable of.

That speed is critical: according to a study by Ehrenberg-Bass, “the average consumer spends 13 seconds purchasing a brand in-store.” In other words, those decisions are being made quickly; you need systems that can adapt quickly to the needs of the customer while incorporating available omnichannel data on their preferences.

Digital shelving can do this, whether by using AI to generate analytic insights autonomously or by interfacing with PoS systems to adjust marketing needs on the fly. From overwhelmed customers to belt-tightening retailers, everyone stands to benefit from these types of efficiency gains, gains which are increasingly the only way forward for retailers.

Furthermore, the ‘Engage’ part of VUSION Engage speaks to not only the way in which you’ll grab your customers with digital shelving, but enhance the relationship between retailers and their brands. 

This type of digital shelving is offered to both ends of the spectrum, allowing for monitoring and controlling campaigns in real-time, facilitating not just greater transparency, but in turn, greater communication between stakeholders.

A New Customer Experience for the New Generation of Customer

These systems can interact with the IoT and smart devices customers themselves bring into storefronts, allowing for a shopping experience that is not only truly personalized but more inclusive and accessible for shoppers of all demographics.

How these complex interactions can take place can be a bit overwhelming to imagine, however, but in a 2020 analysis by McKinsey, they detail what the customer journey can look like in a store that has leveraged smart shelf displays to facilitate their digital transformations:

“Once [the customer] agrees to log in, the store accesses the shopping list he’s been building at home by scanning items with his phone as he uses them up. As he walks the aisles, smart shelf displays illuminate to show the location of those items, while also highlighting tailored offers, complementary items, and regular purchases that didn’t make it onto the list.” 

By using digital marketing to highlight those tailored offers, in-store digital shelving helps to effectively encourage customers to make purchasing decisions they likely wouldn’t have anyway, but which still suit their needs.

Certainly, it should be less difficult to imagine how such a shopping experience would result in not just a quicker and more efficient way to move inventory, but a way to spruce up one’s visual merchandising in real-time while boosting customer recognition of your store brands (and strengthening brand identities).

When combining all of these tools together, you’ll not only ‘wow’ your customers with a next-generation customer shopping experience, but optimize your operations and generate that all-important customer loyalty in a way that will make your competition look up.