The holiday shopping season could sparkle in a new way this year as major retailers such as Walmart increasingly invest in geolocation and other digital technology to offer a personalized, responsive shopping experience – that also drives up sales. Whether you are searching high and low for this year’s must-have kids’ toy or looking for a great deal on home decor, what’s not to love about technology that can make your shopping excursion into an experience?
While the traditional shopping center business model connected consumers and retailers in a physical place, technology is shifting that model, says Steven Lowy, co-chief executive officer of Westfield Corp., in the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)’s “Envision 2020” report. “The real estate owner now has a large part to play in connecting the retailer and consumer both physically and digitally, and to do that you need a direct relationship with the consumer.”
Tapping into technology to engage customers, streamline the shopping process and built a devoted customer base has potentially big payoffs. The holiday sales forecast for this November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) amounts to an astonishing $630.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), with online sales totaling as much as $105 billion.
Among those who plan to shop online this holiday season, “46.5 percent say they will take advantage of retailers’ buy online pick up in store or ship-to-store options,” reports NRF’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey. Offering these options can yield great results for retailers. According to consulting firm A.T. Kearney, shopping centers increasingly double as distribution centers: “Studies have found that 23 percent of customers purchase additional items when picking up an online order from stores. Retailers also report that up to 20 percent of consumers who return an online purchase to a store make an additional purchase while they are onsite.”
Using beacons and geofencing technology, retailers can engage potential or existing customers, providing value in the moment while contributing to long term customer loyalty. As Digital Social Retail explains, developers can use geofencing to create “a circle radius around a retail location of about a half mile so that loyalty customers driving by can receive message notifications about a sale going on in the store that day.”
Beacons, a similar but distinct technology, “are battery-operated devices that send Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signals in the form of a tiny data packet,” elaborates Digital Social Retail. “When this unique code is received by a beacon-enabled app, a set of highly-specific rules can be enacted.” So once geofencing brings a customer within a closer range of hot spots in the store, beacons can take the next steps to connect with customers: “A customer can also receive a targeted offer when they walk by an aisle-end display that delivers more information about the products and perhaps a promotional discount.”
“Walmart was one of the first retailers to geofence all 4,300 of its stores, meaning they virtually mapped its physical spaces to trigger alerts whenever a user enters them with a mobile device,” reports PCMag. The Search My Store feature within the Walmart app “provides turn-by-turn directions to specific items in a store … The feature not only takes advantage of smartphone geolocation but also empowers consumers to find the items they need without seeking the assistance of a store associate.”
Direct Marketing News questions: Where is the line between smart marketing and customer stalking? Allowing people to opt-in and opt-out can help, says Tom Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at CloudEngage, as can transparency about the data a company is collecting. Surveys reveal smartphone users’ mixed feelings about intrusive technology. comScore’s 2015 Mobile App Report indicates that smartphone users are as likely to accept as to reject an app’s request to allow push notifications. As the report notes, push notifications can serve as “a crucial method to keep its users actively engaged” but with the potential downside of appearing “intrusive,” ultimately driving away users. Meanwhile, a greater percentage of smartphone users indicate that they are comfortable with apps accessing their geographic location information, leading to the question: Is “privacy less of a concern than annoyance?”
The infusion of innovative tools in the retail setting could potentially lead to evolutions in the relationship between retailers and developers as well. ICSC’s “Envision 2020” report cites Kimco Realty Corp.’s “Clicks to Bricks” program, which “offers qualified online retailers one year of rent-free tenancy and provides merchants with a ‘personal business counselor’ to assist with site selection and store build out.”
Whether you are shopping on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, last minute or all of the days from now until the holidays, power up your gadgets and help retailers help you make the most of this shopping season.
Marie Ruff is Communications Senior Manager at NAIOP.