Retail are using innovative tech to connect with customers
By Hendrik Bredenkamp, business unit head of NEC XON Retail
Customer engagement, loyalty and service have never been more at a premium than they are in the digital era and advanced retailers are becoming increasingly creative in how they deploy technology to help them give customers the services they want.
Electronic shelf labels (ESL) have long since graduated the simple digital display of prices and the ability to push updates. Today, infrared ESLs are increasingly the conduit by which retailers connect, in real-time, their optimised back office systems to operational efficiencies and sophisticated customer engagements.
Retailers are challenged to deal with saturated online and physical markets. It has squeezed profits and had a huge influence on positioning. The knock-on effect is that retailers have to contend with a number of issues such as finding ways to get more staff into frontline operations, synchronising their physical and online environments in real-time, being able to optimise prices dynamically, integrate more systems, deal with regulatory concerns and still grow their stores.
At the same time, consumers want quick, easy access to reviews and information such as pricing, availability, locations, promotions, and even wayfinding when they get into stores. The days of merchandisers with sticky price tags unable to meet customers’ eyes in store are now firmly relegated to the past.
Customers are pushing for more advances and retailers are responding with the most cost-effective solutions that can give them a vital edge. A Food Marketing Institute survey shows that 52% of consumers with a smartphone use it for digital coupons when in stores. As many as 48% check weekly deals, 43% look up recipes, 32% check reviews of products, 23% use in-store item locators, and 22% compare pricing and seek nutritional value.
ESLs are increasingly being used alongside digital signs in combination with merchandising promotion and product locators, store guidance, task management for services such as Click & Collect, as well as geofencing, shopper engagements using ESL for web redirects and retargeting, and all of it integrated with enterprise systems and tools that extend the power of smart platforms.
Retailers increasingly use Bluetooth for location-based marketing and navigation around their stores. It helps customers find promotions special offers and products of interest. The same functionality also helps retailer employees in their daily tasks. Geofencing has been used by many for some time and along with other Bluetooth solutions works well in conjunction with ESL systems to which it can be easily attached, getting power via the infrared ESL transceivers.
Infrared ESLs are among the most powerful enablers linking additional digital services to physical environments and customers. They’re more secure, use less energy, are the fastest in the market, require less maintenance and put fewer overheads on employees than alternatives including noisy WiFi.
The software platforms that power them in the backend now run in the cloud or on-premise so retailers can apply the benefits of scale and availability balanced against optimal opex. It gives retailers the flexibility they need to provide innovative solutions of their own.
These connected, integrated digital platforms are carving a firm space for brick-and-mortar retailers, many with their own digital storefronts, alongside e-commerce disruptors and helping to direct employees and customers efficiently and in real-time.