Technology & software

In store technologies in 2015

Richard Cottrell, sales and marketing director, Vista Retail Support tells Talk Retail about how 2015 will be the year of integration technology.

2015 promises to be another exciting year for the retail world – but there are two technology trends that will really stand out from the crowd.

Firstly, the use of smartphones and tablets by customers will only rise in prominence. Secondly, certain technologies that have been around for a few years will move closer to the mainstream, thanks to new developments or enhanced integration with established systems.

When it comes to the use of smartphones, retailers may be a little jaded with all the talk about their potential as an in store marketing channel. But it is clear that it is an under-exploited channel.

A remarkable 91% of respondents in a recent Vista survey had never received a retailer’s offer on their smartphones when they were in a store, yet 81% said they would react positively and take up such offers. The poll showed that 40% would also welcome being sent price comparisons while in-store.

The likelihood is that in 2015, the more savvy retailers are going to wake up to this potential and start installing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology that connects retailers to customers, with information about offers and products travelling one way and data about customer demographics going the other.

Another smartphone-related technology set for uptake involves beacons which map the movements of shoppers by tracking their mobile devices. This is not brand new, but it is growing in sophistication. Not only does it provide analytics about customers, but the newer versions also act as a kind of in store Sat Nav and customer service agent, guiding shoppers in large premises to the products they are searching for.

Among all this in store mobile technology, perhaps the giant that will awake for UK retailers in 2015 is Apple Pay, Apple’s payment system which links to the iPhone 6 and its finger-print recognition technology. Apple already has hundreds of millions of subscribers to iTunes and once Apple Pay goes live in the UK, it may well give a big boost to biometric payment methods, which use unique physical characteristics as secure identifiers, doing away with the need for PIN numbers.

We can already see that the payment card companies, which have been very sluggish in their adoption of new technology, are already feeling the pressure of Apple Pay’s movement into the market. MasterCard have for example, teamed up with Zwipe to introduce a contactless payment card with finger-print authentication. Even PayPal effectively has a biometric payment method because its app sits on biometric-enabled mobiles.

Card technology too will see some significant developments in use over 2015, as consumers in convenience stores become more at ease with contactless payments and the card companies like MasterCard make a renewed effort to promote it.

Besides the iPhone 6, Apple have also introduced the Apple Watch, which despite lacking biometric payment capability, does measure heart rhythms. It is almost certain that Apple will at some point deploy this as a payment authentication technology, but it is not likely to be in 2015. Indeed, 2015 may not be the year in which wearable technology makes a big breakthrough in payments, but instead emerges as a high-tech tool used in store by staff to increase efficiency and enhance customer service.

In fact wearable technology is already well-established in warehousing, where staff have barcode scanners on their gloves and wear headsets that give them directions and other stock information on Google Glass-type displays in front of their eyes.

It is entirely foreseeable that 2015 will see the emergence of a more elegant version of this technology, perhaps linked to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or barcode scanning systems.  Staff in a large store can read data from their headset to inform customers where they can find the product they are searching for. Alternatively, where a large volume of stock is held away from the shop floor, a member of staff using a headset can tell the customer whether the item they want is in the stock room, can be brought over from another store, or is available for purchase as a click-and-collect or home delivery item. All this in a few seconds, without leaving the customer’s side.

RFID is one of the technologies that has been around for a number of years, but has failed to take off because of the cost of the minute chip-bearing tags that are attached to individual stock items so they can be scanned when a reader device passes near them. However, its integration with other store technologies, such as wearable solutions, now makes it a more viable proposition. 2015 could be the year it makes real advances in retail operations with higher value lines that justify the cost.

Similarly, digital shelf-edge labelling is making itself more attractive, thanks to increasing sophistication and durability. It is now possible to change tens of thousands of electronic shelf labels in branches at the touch of a dashboard button at headquarters. Not only do the labels have much longer staying power, with a three-year battery life, but the systems controlling them also have detailed audit trails that offer cover against price challenges.

Something old, something new; predicting technological change is never straightforward, but in the retail sector we can be certain that developments in store will continue to be governed by the dual drivers of customer preference and return on investment for store owners.

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