Last week it was the 20th
anniversary of online retail. Two decades ago the very first secure online purchase was made of Sting's 'Ten Summoners Tales'
and today it has become a way of buying for 75 per cent of us.
I use the online retail arena for buying everything from all of my Christmas presents to choosing a new dress to wear at the weekend. I monitor my daily emails from retailers, scanning the daily deals and offers and reviewing the latest trends.
Online purchasing has completely changed our shopping habits and as a result, caused the demise of household 'offline' names such as Blockbuster, Comet and Woolworths, which struggled to cope with the change. This year over 12,000 shops will close in the UK and this is reflective of the quarter of us online shoppers that are using the web to shop every week.
Amazon is currently the biggest online retailer, now selling over 120 million products and having an annual UK sales of £4.3 billion. So there is definitely scope for online-only retailers to keep growing.
It goes without saying that the high street needs to work a lot harder to keep us spending in-store, but how?
Many retailers are talking about Iconeme's iBeacon technology and how they are using it, or not using it, to maintain their audience through an enhanced shopping experience and potentially increasing their spend along the way.
iBeacon has been designed to allow retailers to engage digitally with shoppers in store. The technology, which is installed into mannequins, transmits data to the mobile phones of consumers as they pass by.
House of Fraser for example
, is giving consumers the chance to use this technology to enhance our shopping experience. When they walk past mannequins in-store, they will now be sent alerts about what the mannequin is wearing and where it can be found in the shop. It also allows shoppers to share their discoveries with friends on social media.
House of Fraser is not the first to trial this new technology. Waitrose is amongst the list of retailers that trialled it earlier this year by pushing discounts to people through their mobile phones as they're walking down different aisles of their stores. The experiment was used as a way of extending the brand's relationship with consumers beyond the check-outs.
John Lewis is also considering using the technology to transform their shoppers' experience, but is first assessing its level of influence
on spending before it commits to it.
The danger, however, with this technology is that it yet again requires consumers to have installed an app on their phone. Like QR codes and augmented reality campaigns, users need to be actively using their phones and have 'opted in' in order to have access to the push notifications. But, according to recent data released by Google, 84 per cent of consumers
are already using their mobiles to help them browse in store anyway.
But are these retailers focusing their efforts on the wrong arena?
On Monday Ted Baker said it was shying away from using iBeacon technology as it believes money is better spent online, particularly on blogging content, rather than "alien"? technology. Whilst the brand is exploring new physical enhancements in store, it's pulling everything into one place - online - for a more integrated approach, which it hopes will boost online engagement to further "engage shoppers."?
Although I agree retailers should focus their attention on online, there is no reason why the activity can't complement or run alongside what's going on in-store. I know that I, as well as buying online, still enjoy a stroll through New Look or H&M every now and then. I still like to try things on and create outfits by searching for items that go well together, and that can still only really be done successfully in a shop environment.
Perhaps iBeacon technology could do with some fine-tuning, after all, who's to say consumers want to know what clothes mannequins are wearing? Just because they're walking passed them in the shop, doesn't mean to say they want to know where they can get hold of that jumper or skirt.
But the technology is on the right track, it just needs to be tailored to each customer's needs.
I think that by giving us more information - the right information - we can have a better customer journey in-store. But the information needs to be deeper and better-reflect our wants, needs and desires. This could be by giving us the option to scan price tags on a t-shirt which would allow us to get access to information about what accessories work well with it, or how best to coordinate a dress with matching shoes.
It can also link with the online profiles we set up when we're making purchases and give us useful alerts when we arrive in the store based on what we have recently browsed online.
There is so much more that can be done with iBeacon technology that can not only be useful for us consumers, but also for retailers. They can gain access to more data about our spending habits which should better inform their decisions.
Let's hope they get it right before the build-up to Christmas begins, as it could be a huge weapon in the battle for sales.
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