Don’t get left behind technological advances, warns digital expert

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The technological opportunities available to retailers, brands and consumers appear to be endless but businesses must make sure they don’t get left behind when major new trends develop.

That was the key message from Mike Bosman, CEO at One Digital Media, the leading provider of retail digital media in South Africa.

Speaking at The Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Summit in London, Bosman said there were major technologies entering the retail space, and affecting the way companies communicate with consumers and the way they behave.

“By embracing some of the technologies we will increase footfall through our stores, make our retail environments look like they belong in the 21st century and convert shoppers to consumers of our particular brands,” he said.

It will create massive competitive advantage for those who harness the technologies the quickest, said Bosman.

Bosman told delegates digital technologies are infiltrating consumers’ lives and old fashioned technologies simply fade away.

Bosman said he had shown his two young daughters a disused old red telephone box on a street in Cape Town and asked them what they thought that was used for.

“They had no idea,” he said, “but Aimee then aged 11, did venture that perhaps it was used for “storing stuff”.”

Bosman said engineers were breaking technologies into smaller and smaller components and technology has reached a tipping point in marketing to encompass more methods of attracting the consumer’s attention.

Bosman said technology developments were driving three changes in the retail industry:

  • the creation of new retail ecosystems
  • in which rside new super-consumers
  • who demand for extraordinary or hyper retail experiences

In the new retail eco-system, information flows between the shopper and the retailer, between the brand and the shopper, he said.

“This connected eco-system has also seen the development of a new type of consumer – a kind of superman consumer. This consumer has new ‘powers’ given him or her by the advent of new technologies.

“These consumers demand new hyper-experiences. They have set a new level of

expectation among consumers who have begun to break down the barriers between other parts of their day and shopping.”

Bosman told delegates there was a new vocabulary of communication and those who shy away from it will cut off a segment of their market.

Bosman presented details of the new super-consumers: 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old and 27% is under 15 years old, he said.

Today’s consumer can connect instantly online via blogs and social media and they are all knowing and all-seeing.

Bosman revealed staggering statistics about social media networks. Facebook has 400m active users and more than 200m joined in the last year alone. Fifty per cent are reported to log on every day, the average user has 130 friends and the fastest growing segment is 55-65-year old women. Further, 70% of users live outside the US.

YouTube, meanwhile, became the world’s second largest search engine after Google in 2008, attracts 300m visitors per month and every minute, another 15 hours of video is added to the channel.

User-generated content as emerged as a mainstream communication channel, he said.

“On Facebook alone there is an estimated mind-boggling total of 20 billion pieces of content being generated per month.

“Imagine if they really like your product or your store,” he said and “imagine if they really don’t like your product or your store.”

The number of iPhone application downloads hit 1bn in nine months.

Twitter has more than 105m registered users and people are signing up at a rate of 300,000 per day. It has 180m unique visitors to its site every month and receives around 600m search queries each day.

Wikipedia has 165m articles on it in 271 languages and receives 680bn monthly hits.

“What is your business doing about all of this?” he asked delegates.

“Consumer behaviour is increasingly being affected by the power of endorsement of word of mouth support of experiences, brands and shops is massive.”

According to Bosman, word of mouth is in the number one influencer in the purchase of electronics and clothing.

Bosman presented some of the latest technological developments including:

  • Moving imagery on product packaging
  • Temperature sensing built in to products
  • Intelligent shelving and electronic pricing
  • Digital or biometric check-outs
  • Mobile Phones for the delivery of vouchers and coupons
  • Augmented reality  and barcode recognition where mobile phone screens can be used to overlay information of what is seen through the camera on a phone
  • Trolley or shopping cart tracking
  • Interactive screens
  • Gesture, gender and logo recognition
  • Digital imagery

“We are going to see increasingly massive use of mobile phones in the shopping arena and it will be possible to keep a record of every shopper and all of their purchases to track their buying patterns,” he said.

Bosman said mobiles would be used to scan fridges or cupboards in future to see what’s missing and will learn about shoppers and their habits.

He described Sticky Bits, a new service that allows consumers to upload any file to any barcode in order to compare products and across locations.

Touch screens will be used to pull shoppers into quieter parts of the store while gender recognition technology will be able to determine if it is a man or woman in front of the shelf. Similarly, gesture technology will recognise movements of arms and hands.

As to in-store displays, Bosman said “almost all imagery in store will be digital” and the correct use of screens will make stores look fantastically modern, driving footfall.

Touch screens and free standing units will increase dwell time, especially with screens positioned at eye level (buy level).

Specifically, they will be custom built screens – not TVs – in all shapes and sizes. They will be deployed in fresh areas and provide localised content that will be changed during the day.

Technological developments will mean computer programmers may have more impact on shopper behaviour in the aisles than marketers. Future marketing departments will be focused on data analytics.

“Going forward, engagement with shoppers can be beautiful and can generate a lot of

emotive responses,” he said.

Summing up, Bosman advised delegates to “do what you do best, but in your quest to build better lives through better business, please also be prepared to “think different”. “