min read
June 3, 2016

Emerging Technologies in Omni Channel Retail: The Physical Web, Project Tango and VLC

Customer Experience
Digital Trends

Are you up to speed on the latest digital technologies in omni channel retail that are changing the industry?Digital technology has long been a thorn in the side of brick-and-mortar retailers. The rise of e-commerce, particularly on mobile, challenges the crux of the traditional retailer’s business model. “Showrooming” has turned the physical store into a test lab that is constantly undersold by digital competitors.When the popularity of e-commerce started to grow, retailers rushed to mobile, thinking their only hope rested in their customers hands. Many retailers brought outdated engagement strategies online, creating digital versions of clippable coupons. As a result, most mobile sites and applications generated minimal return on investment. Even worse, consumers were fleeing them in droves. Shoppers use a quarter of retail apps only one time, while 17% of branded apps are never opened at all. The retailer’s nightmare became their reality: in their hasty attempt to catch up, they fell even further behind.Still, there is more than a glimmer of hope for the modern retailer. The smartphone can be the most important compliment, not hazard, to the physical experience. Brands that merge the digital and physical successfully may even surpass their digital-native competitors. Consumers using digital tools while shopping are significantly more likely to convert. In fact, 76% of shoppers have digitally interacted with brands or products before entering the store. As a result, digital interactions influenced $0.64 of every dollar spent in retail in 2015. Many leading brands, like Burberry, are reaping the benefits of integrated omni channel experiences.To build a successful omni channel retail strategy, businesses need to be extremely calculated. They need to measure customer behavior across all physical and digital channels. These insights will highlight the highest priority strategies. To support the omni channel approach, companies need to reorganize for collaboration across business units. Businesses must align online and in-store teams around a similar vision for the future.Furthermore, the technological prospects for retailers in 2016 are thrilling. Seamless merging of the digital and physical shopping worlds can be implemented to the delight of consumers. The following new emerging technologies in omni channel retail have the potential to reposition brick-and-mortar brands as market leaders.

Google Instant Apps

This May, Google announced a series of exciting announcements at its annual developer’s conference. One such advancement could solve the notorious “download and ditch” problem for retailers. Instant Apps allows teams to make modular apps that run instantly without installation. In this future, a user could share a deep link directly from an experience in their favorite retail app. The recipient does not have the app, but can still access a rich native experience from the link. As a result, users can access these micro-experiences as fast as they would access a webpage.

Google Physical Web

Retailers have long struggled with exposing customers to their mobile products. Even an excellent product fails without relevant discovery and distribution. Imagine if our smartphones could unearth contextual solutions autonomously—what if this autonomous discovery linked to the physical items creating that very context? The connection of physical and digital is the goal of Physical Web—a Google project that will allow users to interact with physical objects without extra software. Through Chrome, mobile users browse URLs broadcast via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The Physical Web will create a discovery model for a digitized physical world.

Project Tango

Though mobile devices are impressively intelligent, they still can't comprehend their physical role. Google is seeking to bridge that fundamental disconnect with Project Tango. With Tango, mobile devices see the world as we see it, with full understanding of where they are and how they move. Through cameras, accelerometers, and other sensors, devices render a 3D model of the physical world. With Tango, Google will bring motion tracking, depth perception, and area learning to mobile.Tango will open many doors for brick-and-mortars expanding their digital offerings. Major opportunities include in-store navigation, AR advertising, and advanced product content. Some developers have already started to explore Tango’s potential within retail environments. Walgreens and Aisle411 are already using Tango to build 3D imaging into their store maps. These maps can guide customers to discounted products via a device mounted on the cart.

Visible light communication (VLC)

VLC offers another opportunity to connect mobile devices with the physical shopping experience. Leaders in VLC, like Philips, are creating LED overhead lighting that flickers at a rate undetectable to the human eye. This pattern, like a modern Morse code, transmits encoded data to customer’s smartphones. Using VLC, retailers can track customer’s position within 10cm of accuracy. This positioning technology will create store navigation and contextual product recommendations. Brands can aggregate anonymized data to gain insights on customer patterns and product placement. Some shopping brands, like the French supermarket Carrefour, are already exploring VLC. Carrefour plans to use VLC to guide customers to promotions across their 7,800 square foot store.There are a multitude of exciting technologies emerging in the retail sector. Combined integration of these technologies will lead to a modernized, first-rate shopping experience. Retailers will build physical locations that blend seamlessly with digital tools. Brands will guide consumers to physical items they browsed online through their personal device. Sensors will detect nearby consumers, pushing a rich, native mobile experience to them. Brands will also leverage existing data to accurately target the individual, not a generic persona. They will continue to capture valuable information by driving true value to the user.For the last several years, retail brands may have had trouble getting their digital initiatives off the ground. But with these new emerging technologies—combined with the right digital strategy—retailers may finally see brick-and-mortar stores drive the future of digital consumption.

Centric Digital