Enhanced Shopping Experiences and the Digital Path to Purchase

Stephen DeAngelis

December 23, 2014

“Retailers, reliant on a traditional bricks-and-mortar heritage,” writes Trisha Nichols, Managing Partner at MediaCom US, “face a complex task of maintaining relevance to an increasingly elusive consumer base. The question we are increasingly asked is: how do brands take advantage of all the shiny new toys in the digital playpen to both drive traffic to their physical shopping environments and maximize e-commerce potential? Our answer is always that the solution must be a seamless integration of the virtual environment with the physical one in a way that’s fresh, dynamic, and interactive.” [“Digital Retailers’ New Path to Purchase,” MediaCom, 29 November 2011] Nichols penned that article three years ago. Since then mobile technologies have become a dominant factor in a consumer’s digital path to purchase. It will be interesting to see how this holiday season shakes out, but a recent survey revealed, “When asked where they would do their shopping, 22% said online only, 24% said brick-and-mortar retail stores only, and 54% said they would shop both online and in-store.” [“Mobile Shopping On The Rise As Holidays Approach,” by Laurie Sullivan (@LaurieSullivan), MediaPost, 4 November 2014] Smartphones are mobile technology of choice when a consumer is physically in a brick-and-mortar store. As a result, retailers are trying to figure out how they can use that technology to provide a “fresh, dynamic, and interactive” experience for shoppers.

 

Earlier this year, McKinsey & Company analysts Nicolo Galante, Eric Hazan (@eric5555), and Pierre Pont, wrote, “A number of still-maturing technologies should enhance both the in-store and online shopping experience in the future. Near-field communication, for example, enables consumers to pay for their purchases using their mobile devices or to scan products in the store for additional information. Augmented reality can go further to allow online shoppers to test products virtually by remotely ‘wearing’ a wristwatch. And radio frequency identification technologies can provide a seamless in-store shopping experience, offering short videos on products as consumers walk by.” [“The multichannel journey: Profitably shaping the path to purchase,” McKinsey on Marketing and Sales, March 2014] They provide a little vignette to demonstrate how shopping can become a more interactive experience.

“A woman at a dinner party spies another guest’s handbag and decides she must have one. With her smartphone, she takes a picture of the bag and searches for the brand, then links to the brand’s Web site, where she accesses videos of the celebrities who have this bag and sees how the bag is manufactured. A mobile app lets her try out the bag in the brand’s virtual showroom, which matches it with photos of her. She sends these to the social network pages of friends to get their reactions. After this, she uses her smartphone to visit the brand’s Web site to customize the bag with her initials and add other special touches, then decides whether to buy it online for same-day delivery or to pick it up at a store. Choosing the store, she uses her phone to find the closest one and schedules an appointment with a sales associate. Upon arrival, her smartphone — using near-field communication technology — automatically signals the salesperson, chosen because he has served her before. She posts her experience on a social network and two weeks later receives a personal invitation from the clerk to try a new scarf that accents her bag, thus repeating the cycle.”

Henry Stuart, founder of Visualise, writes, “The connected consumer no longer reacts to the traditional ‘path to purchase’ strategy used by marketers to target them. Shoppers already use smartphones, PCs, laptops and tablets to research brands and products and the next step is to experience the brand or product in ultimate ‘try before you buy’ fashion.” [“How virtual reality and immersive experiences are changing the future of marketing,” The Wall, 17 September 2013] Virtual reality shopping appears to be going nowhere (or in the distant future) and more immersive experiences remain in their infancy and/or haven’t caught on with consumers. Google Glass, for example, has faced a chorus of criticism and ridicule. Dan Gallagher (@djtgallagher) reports, “If and when Google gets around to launching its smart glasses, it will face a unique challenge: overcoming more than two years of consumer backlash that has built up around a product few people have had the chance to use.” [“Looking Clearly at Google Glass,” The Wall Street Journal, 1 December 2014] Nevertheless, Google reportedly plans to offer a new version of its smart glasses next year.

 

Clayton Wood, Marketing Director of SEOReseller.com, agrees that enhanced shopping experiences are going to change marketing forever. “Soon, it might not be enough for companies to just know what you want,” he writes, “they will likely also want to know when you’re most likely to want something. At the start of the year, Apple applied for a patent for a technology that would make inferences about the moods of people in real time. ‘If an individual is preoccupied or unhappy, the individual may not be as receptive to certain types of content,’ Apple explained.” [“The Future of Digital Marketing According to the Giants,” Business 2 Community (B2C), 21 July 2014] Wood continues:

“Their solution? Figure out how a person is feeling at any given moment, and use that data to target content — or more accurately, ads — to be delivered at the right place and the right time. Combining the technology on data tracking and analysis with the innovations in wearable technology, we can expect marketers to combine behavioral indicators — such as the rate of ‘likes’, comments, shares, the applications users open first, and the date, time, location and other specifics of their online interaction — with physical indicators tracked by a smartwatch or some other wearable gadget. The word ‘personal’ will have a whole new meaning, especially when it concerns digital marketing and online interactions. Whatever updates and innovations may come, one thing is for sure: the digital marketing of today won’t certainly look the same as tomorrow’s. Companies clearly will be gearing for the future — are you?”

Some advertising has already taken the next step, Jane Bird (@UKJaneBird) reports that passengers waiting at some bus stops in London earlier this year were treated to surprising scenes as they peered through glass panels sheltering the benches on which they were seated. “A woman waiting at a bus shelter in London in March was astonished to see through the end panel a burning meteor apparently hurtling towards her along the pavement,” Bird noted. “Other people were treated to similarly surprising sights, including a huge tentacle emerging from a manhole to snatch a pedestrian, a trio of flying saucers and a tiger on the prowl.” [“Augmented reality: Advertisers extend their tentacles,” Financial Times, 27 May 2014] Bird continues:

“The panel was not clear glass, as it appeared, but a screen showing live video of the street on to which the special effects were superimposed. They were created for Pepsi Max using augmented reality (AR), a technology that can display computer-generated images on to smartphones, shop windows, virtual ‘mirrors’, windscreens and wearable devices, such as watches and glasses. It uses the camera and geographic positioning software embedded in these devices to capture and record the environs and what the viewer is seeing and doing. AR has the potential to transform advertising and marketing, says Ori Inbar, chief executive and co-founder of AugmentedReality.org, a non-profit organisation. ‘It can turn any ad into a live experience, which is far more engaging for the viewer and also lets companies gather information and see how people react,’ Mr Inbar says.”

Consumers often assert that the convenience of shopping from home and having products delivered to their doors trumps traveling to a brick-and-mortar store and having to fight crowds to purchase goods. Experience venues, like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, know that a great experience can overcome most objections about having to travel and fight crowds. The technologies now being developed to enhance a consumer’s digital path to purchase could provide the kinds of experiences that once again draw consumers to stores. Stuart concludes, “It remains to be seen where virtual reality will end up, but if marketers ignore this trend and keep up with mobile ads, offering little context, that will only give short-term engagement. They should embrace the consumer’s appetite for immersive and interactive content — social and creative content are the key to building long-term relationships with customers.”