By Nigel Ashton, Retail Industry Lead, Microsoft Advertising UK
No doubt you are all too familiar with how technology is impacting on consumer behaviour and how it is changing expectations about what a shopping experience should be. Retail brands have had to fundamentally rethink their relationship with customers and the technology they are using at home, at work and on the go.
In our UK Families and Technology study we found a typical UK family now has an average of 10 connected devices within the household and we’re seeing a cultural shift towards family members being ‘always on’ and communicating with each other across different screens, in particular mobile and tablet devices. As a consequence people now have more information, more options and more expectations when they shop and interact with retailers. Savvy retail brands are starting to recognise this and I am seeing an increasing focus on technology as a pivot to engage with consumers across multiple channels.
What’s also clear is one of the constants in retail is change, and technology is undoubtedly driving this across the retail sector. In my 2014 predictions published last month I referenced the importance of brand experience. Consumers are increasingly looking for brands to lead with more rewarding shopping experiences and they are prepared to make an exchange, for example share more information about themselves, in return.
This was a big theme at this year's National Retail Fair (NRF) which took place last month in New York. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, NRF is an annual gathering of more than 27,000 business leaders, ITDMs and executives from major retailers around the world.
At Microsoft we are already imagining how we can join the dots to connect the online and in-store shopping experience together which could be seen by all at the show. Our large multi-section area offered solutions and information as to how Microsoft technology can help retailers transform their business in three key ways: create unified experiences across connected devices, enable smarter operations and engage employees.
I saw plenty of consumer-focused technology during the show but three examples of innovation on the Microsoft booth really stood out for me.
Connected Fitting Room
Microsoft, Accenture and Avanade collaborated to showcase the Connected Fitting Room for the first time at NRF. When a customer enters the fitting room carrying RFID-tagged garments, the screen automatically recognises the items and displays them graphically on a Windows Embedded 8 powered touchscreen. The customer can request a different size, style, colour or alternative item from the screen which is picked up by a smartphone carried by a member of staff. They can then respond to the customer in real time. A combination of Accenture analytical tools and Microsoft Dynamics business intelligence allows the retailer to use the data to learn more about customer behaviour and adapt accordingly. The Fitting Room is currently being trialled with the US retailer Kohl's.
Retailers are increasingly using Microsoft's Kinect for Windows sensor to personalise the shopping experience and inspire customers to interact with their products in a meaningful and fun way. FaceCake introduced Swivel, an application that allows shoppers to try on clothes and accessories via a virtual dressing room. After capturing their image via the Kinect for Windows sensor, the shopper can select items from a photo display of clothing and accessories, while the application displays the shopper ‘wearing’ the selected items. The customer can also split the screen to compare different outfit options.
Retail in a Box
Retail in a Box is a transportable, pop-up shop that can set up anywhere in the world on a matter of days. The team imagined a surf shop scenario where customers could customise their own surfboard using a Microsoft Surface. A Kinect-enabled digital signage application then captured images of the customised board against the background of one of the world’s top beaches. The image could be printed as a postcard and also e-mailed to the customer to create an immersive experience that is personal, mobile and social.
Razorfish also showcased a scenario where customers were invited to participate in a Kinect-powered beach soccer game. A customer assumed the role of striker and used the Kinect for Windows sensor to score goals against another customer who was playing as goalkeeper. Successful customers accumulated points which they could redeem for a refreshing drink from a connected vending machine.
If you would like to hear more about NRF and Microsoft’s unique approach to retail please get in touch. We would love to come and talk to you about our ideas and experiences.
Nigel Ashton, Retail Industry Lead, Microsoft Advertising UK