Can technology save the high street?

Instore tracking, can technology save the high street?

Omnichannel shopping and smart mannequins

The retail business is changing at an alarming rate.

Some traditional department stores, like V&D (a fixture in the Dutch high street, that had been around for 129 years) have already disappeared. At the same time online retailers, like and Amazon, are opening brick and mortar shops. It is becoming increasingly important for brands and stores to create integrated, omnichannel environments for their customers. Online and offline customer experience should blend seamlessly. Retailers will be able to communicate better with their customers if they store all information a single database and make it accessible on the shop floor.

The technology to map consumer behaviour on the high street is here already: iBeacons, Wifi tracking and Bluetooth tracking, apps offering personalized offers and discounts, and even mannequins that come with built-in cameras and facial recognition software to monitor the age, gender and ethnicity of shoppers.

Tracking and the law

Although there are no technical obstacles to achieving the connected shopping experience, there are legal issues. in December 2015, the Dutch authority that oversees personal data protection, found that methods used for collecting and storing customer information by a company called Bluetrace were in breach of Dutch privacy laws: They ruled that the collected data was insufficiently anonymized  and kept too long.

Privacy vs convenience

Retailers use instore tracking to get to know their customers, but customers worry about their privacy. Surveys by Fortune magazine and marketing software giant Salesforce found that consumers are concerned about retailers tracking them through phone signals or by facial recognition. However, they also found that customers are willing to share personal data if this leads to better information about products, a better shopping experience and a more personalized service. Some instore techniques, such as heatmapping, can both increase the store’s efficiency and enhance customer experience, by ensuring there is always enough staff available at peak times.
According to Salesforce’s  2015 Connected Shoppers Report, Millennials are most open to sharing data to improve their shopping experience.

The customer at the controls

Transparency is the key to consumer trust. Requesting an opt-in for  free Wifi connections, signs on the shop floor about the tracking methods used, and offers and discounts through a store app. This will give customers a clear choice: to be tracked, or to turn off their phone’s Wifi and Bluetooth signals.

In April 2015, the small city of Sneek in the Netherlands became the first European city with 100% iBeacon coverage. Visitors have to download the Lightcurb app to get access to information about tourist attractions and shops.

Sources: Twinkle 1-2016 (Dutch),  CBP report about Bluetrace (Dutch), 2015 Connected Shopper Report Salesforce.


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