The Technology domain in the STOF model concerns the technology that is required for producing a new product or delivering a new service. A multitude of examples can be found in this domain, in which the development has already gone beyond QR codes, iPads, narrowcasting and information kiosks (Molenaar, 2011). Actual shop experiments are being undertaken with interactive full-length mirrors, from the ‘simple’ form where more information about the item of clothing is displayed on the basis of an RFID chip in the item of clothing (magic mirror) or where a picture is taken of the clothing that you are trying on and you have the possibility of sharing it via social media (tweet mirror), to gesture-based browsing through a collection where a selected item of clothing is projected on top of your image in the mirror and you can also move to see whether it ‘fits’ (virtual mirror, Kinect-shopping). There are plenty of examples of in-store touch-screens: from iPads to large video walls, which can be used by the staff or the consumer to search, select and order. Screens also appear increasingly in the store window (interactive storefronts) making it possible to search and order at the physical location of the store when it is closed. This is not necessarily linked to the store as such, examples can also be found of self-service digital stores in public spaces such as airports (an example of which is Tesco at London Gatwick Airport) and in metro stations – the next generation of vending machines. Or the technology is in the clothing (tags) or on the clothes hangers – showing the number of ‘likes’ for the item on social media. Technology is not always visible to the customer, there is increasingly more in-store technology (sensors, cameras, WiFi-tracking, iBeacons) for monitoring customer patterns such as the route taken and items of clothing picked up, to cameras in mannequins that follow the eye movements of the customers.
Technological innovations can also be found online. There are various examples of online virtual mirrors (online fitting rooms) as counterparts to in-store interactive full-length mirrors, where the image of the person filmed using a webcam is used for the virtual ‘fitting’ of all kinds of goods, from glasses, wigs, jewellery to make-up. Complete 3D shops can also be found online where you can walk through the shop like ‘in real life’ and do your shopping. These can also be personalised so you don’t have to spend an endless amount of time looking for that one particular product. Because sizes are a significant bottleneck when ordering clothing online, online solutions for this have been developed that allow to have a model of yourself produced and having that model try on the clothes (corpo.myvirtualmodel.com/index.html) or by uploading photographs of yourself and your sizes so that a 3D model of yourself can be produced (for example Tesco’s 3D fitting room).
Finally, there are also technological innovations in the area of Smartphones that are worth mentioning. Augmented reality via the Smartphone is used to increase the consumer experience and to provide additional information about a product. The latter is a common use for the Smartphone: whether it’s by scanning QR codes and via Bluetooth (iBeacons) or RFID, the Smartphone is a commonly used device for providing consumers with personalised extra information or for informing them about special offers. This additional information is often combined with information about the consumer’s location (location based services). For example, a few years ago Wehkamp was able to launch a campaign that gave consumers a 10% extra discount on Wehkamp products if the consumer was at that moment in a competitor’s physical store, for example in the Mediamarkt (Hofste & Teeuw, 2012). Another example is the Shopkick app (https://www.shopkick.com), which rewards you every time for the simple fact of walking into a particular store (the ‘kick’) and, if you do this often enough, you will receive in-store discounts.
The level of prominence of smartphone usage in the consumer’s current buying process is apparent from, for example, the DigitasLBi study (2014). Around two-thirds of Dutch consumers stated that using a mobile phone has had a significant impact on the buying process. For example, 90% of consumers use their mobile phone to search for more information about a product when they are at home, at work or school, and around 40% do this when they are in the store. The mobile phone is used in the store to search for information, to compare prices and to ask the opinion of friends and family about the products. The Snaptell app, for example, allows you to take a photograph of a book, CD or videogame and then shows reviews and ratings for the product. Purchases made by mobile phone are lagging behind somewhat; around 18% of consumers have bought something via the mobile phone during the last three months. We can see comparable results in the Kilcourse & Rowen study (2014): one-third of customers use their mobile phone in the store and do so mainly for price comparison (62%) followed by product ratings and reviews (45%) and improved online choice (39%). Williams (2014) writes about more than half of the consumers using a mobile device in the store, primarily for comparing prices. Of those consumers, 36% visit the retailer’s website or app for the store in which they are at that moment. In a Google study (Google, 2013) the advance of the smartphone in the shopping process also emerges: 90% of the smartphone users asked said they use the Smartphone before shopping (finding store locations, opening times, price comparison, special offers, browsing catalogue) and 84% use the smartphone in the store; for clothing this is 80%. The most important activity on the smartphone in the store is price comparison, although this is more prevalent for appliances and electronics (>70%) than for clothing (44%). Search engines are mainly used for this and, in second place, the store’s website. The study also finds that consumers who use the Smartphone frequently in the buying process spend 25% more money compared to consumers who only use the Smartphone occasionally for this. The researchers regard the Smartphone as “one of the biggest influencers in the store today; it presents tremendous opportunities” (Google, 2013, p. 15).
At the same time, not all retailers and advertisers are ‘up to speed’ with these developments. Only one-fifth of retailers considers contextualisation of information for a consumer to be important (Kilcourse & Rowen, 2014) and only one-third of advertisers uses mobile marketing – mainly for encouraging sales and greater brand & customer engagement; amongst advertisers with a loyalty programme in two-thirds of the cases the mobile phone plays no role (Velti, 2013). It is expected that attention to and budget for mobile marketing will increase substantially in the coming years (Shankar et al., 2010; Williams, 2014), especially for location-based services and couponing (Velti, 2013). The latter can, for example, be via an ‘opt-in’ procedure where the customer can personally decide whether to receive coupons. These expectations are not only based on the increasing use of the smartphone, but also on the fact that the smartphone is experienced as being personal and the retailer has the possibility of ‘following’ the consumer everywhere: “Retailers can now enter the consumer’s environment through the mobile device, and, because the mobile device stays with the consumer, the retailer can be anywhere, anytime” (Shankar et al., 2010, p. 112). There is, however, a shift taking place in the belief that mobile devices not only have to have a function for attracting the consumers to the store but that they also have to be seen as a channel that has to support the entire sales process, including in the store: “Mobile’s role is to bind the digital and physical selling environments together in a meaningful way for consumers.” (Kilcourse & Rowen, 2014, p. 22). The main reasons why retailers and advertisers are lagging behind are: budget and knowledge (Velti, 2013; Kilcourse & Rowen, 2014) as well as the mistrust on the part of consumers about (push) marketing (Shankar et al., 2010; Kilcourse & Rowen, 2014).
In our study, conducted by students, into the use of technology in 60 retail stores in Amsterdam, we also found little evidence of all of the technological possibilities (Schrandt, Riester, Van Vliet, 2014). The stores rarely use any of the current digital opportunities. Products are mainly promoted using flyers, bags and posters. Feedback from customers is mainly obtained via forms. Interactive screens are the most common form of digital expression although here too only one-third of the shops studied made use of this. Visitors are being asked to visit the website/webshop (for example by printing the URL on the till receipt). The websites/webshops of the shops studied, often contain the same information that people would encounter in the store. Cautious use is being made of technologies such as 3D visualisations, but that is somewhat limited. The most important technologies being used are search functions and viewing catalogues using zoom functions for photographs. In some cases (one-third) it is also possible to leave feedback and view other reviews but that too is only on a limited scale. About the mobile phone, one-third of the shops have an Android app and almost half have an iPhone app. However, you are hardly ever asked in the store or on the website to install the app. This small-scale study, therefore, seems to confirm the statement: “There is a vast distance between retailers’ understanding of the value of many of today’s technical solutions and actual use – even though many of those technologies have been available for quite some time” (Kilcourse & Rowen, 2014, p. ii).
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DigitasLBi. 2014. Connected Commerce. Comparative Analysis. March 2014. Advance/DigitasLBi.
Google. 2013. Mobile In-Store Retail. How in-store shoppers are using mobile devices. Google Shopper Marketing Council.
Hofste, M. & W. Teeuw (eds.). 2012. Winkel van de toekomst, toekomst van de winkel? Enschede: Saxion, kenniscentrum Design en Technologie.
Kilcourse, B. & Rowen, S. 2014. Mobile in Retail: Reality Sets In. Benchmarkt Report 2014. Retail Systems Research.
Molenaar, C. 2011. Het einde van winkels? De strijd om de klant. Den Haag: SDU Uitgevers.
Schrandt, B., Riester, J. & Van Vliet, H. 2014. Fashion’s Retail Future: resultaten. Presentatie voor VvFb projectgroep, maart 2014, Deventer.
Shankar, V., Venkatesh, A., Hofacker, C., & Naik, P. 2010. Mobile marketing in the retailing environment: Current insights and future research avenues. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 24, pp. 111-120.
Velti. 2013. Mobile Marketing Monitor 2013. Mobilemarketing.nl/Velti.
Williams, G. 2014. E-commerce is history. Wired, March, pp. 110-117.