Handsfree or Handheld Retailing. What’s winning?

Technology disruption is causing retailers to place greater emphasis on improving customer experience by leveraging wearables, mobile devices and offer many other convenience smart-services. No big surprise. We all use technology to find ways to make our life better.

As a result, the in-store shopping experience is revolutionizing.

For instance, the smart watch has opened up a new spectrum of applications, which directly impacts retail—starting with payment. Thought leaders in the industry are envisioning an environment where a customer can walk into a store, pick up what they want and simply walk out without the need for checking out. An experience facilitated by technologies such as RFID and mobile payments.

Let’s begin to classify how we talk about the avenues in which the connected consumer gets their shopping done. While wearable technology is still in many phases of development and maturity, the technology that is reshaping the shopping trip is both handheld and handsfree. But for the sake of this post, we will start to break those two apart.

Curbside pickup, for example, is a great example of handsfree, and a perfect way to avoid the long lines at checkout. In essence, curbside can be both handsfree and handheld.

The truest form of handsfree is the Amazon Echo. It even eliminates curbside. It becomes your personal assistant when you’re craving more than a Dash button fixed to your Keurig. It’s retailing that comes with a morning planner, knows your preferences of entertainment, or can control your house.

Confused yet? Then let’s simplify…

While many retailers and e-tailers have been focused on speeding up local deliveries with same-day service in major markets, others continue to experiment with hybrid models, which is how curbside came about. It offers the best of both worlds. The convenience of pre-ordering, shortening the trip, and the consumer still has the opportunity to taste and touch what they load into their car.

The battle between handsfree and handheld is a personal preference. It comes down to what the shopper is wishing to buy, and how they want to buy it. Both conveniences radically change the entire journey or eliminate it altogether, from browse to buy, less trips to brick and mortar, or simply driving by. And it’s to the retailer’s advantage which may not be your first instinct. While shoppers shop, there is always someone on the other end gathering data and understanding how, what and where they buy. Handsfree and handheld provide retailers the opportunity to capture total consumer behavior.

If you stop to truly think about how someone is tracking your every move when buying products, it can be unnerving. However, the convenience of it far outweighs the fact that a computer is feeding a database, which in turn feeds the consumer messages to lure you into returning to spend again. Ask most consumers and they’ll tell you they don’t mind that, and many prefer.

And it goes well beyond these two methods of making purchases (handsfree and handheld). Every time you make a Google search, surf the net or use social networks, in essence you provide retailers with all the necessary information on what compels you. Every single search you make is recorded. Thus, target groups are created and preferences are bucketed in micro-consumer profiles. We hear a lot about big data, but how are businesses leveraging it and turning it into small data?

Every retailer should have it.

Consequently, significant marketing development can only occur today when processes like this are activated. Technology is creating a new battle scene, and it all comes down to driving loyalty.

When it comes to the consumer, the convenience factor is what it’s all about. Handsfree retailing means women are no longer digging through their purses to find their wallets or phones, while men can leave their wallets in the back of their jeans and simply walk out of the store. Handheld means the consumer already knows what they want, and they are willing to allow someone else to pack, ship or bag the item on their behalf.

Both methods make life a little simpler for the time-starved consumer. I don’t have any friends or colleagues that don’t suffer from that disease today, do you?

These small time-savers driven by technology is creating a new breed of shoppers with expectations that anything can be done electronically — from checking in to board a plane to buying a cup of coffee — it should all be done with a tap on the wrist or a touch of a screen. Ultimately, the rise of the consumer is on the cusp of beginning to exceed the speed of device advancement. So much so, that experiences today are no longer measured in seconds that were once measured in minutes. Now it’s a grave inconvenience when you don’t receive an order confirmation milliseconds after you’ve hit “send” or “order”. I’m positive you feel that way at times. 

Let’s chase that notion down.

The number of screens we use each day is ever increasing. For example, we watch TV on a big screen LCD, while tweeting on computer and replying to our friends on facebook using a phone, all at the same time. It’s a marketer’s nightmare and dream at the same time. Advertising adaptation based on what’s happening on each screen is constant, not to mention timing and ways to interact on a personal level.

It’s no wonder why consumer expectations today are endless. Marketers have trained consumers to see that standardization is now old school, and that everything should be personalized and correlated. Marketers must not only think like the consumer, but also think for them.

Retail is no longer just a sales channel.

While brands focus on shopper marketing, the role of the retailer has been transformed. Retailer boardrooms are now filled with the feat of Amazon, the gap of knowing their target consumer must be closed. The retailer exec that is on-board with finding the right technology, and constantly trying to implement differentiation, is winning. The more traditional but savvy brick and mortar retailer knows that loyalty is key for survival and that they possess something that pure-play e-tailers don’t; the ability to offer an experience.

While a shopper is seeking a product in a store, even if the purchase can be made handsfree, there’s an opportunity for the retailer to make a consultation and personal touch with him or her. Even in the simplest form, real-time marketing can take place by notifying customers of relevant promotions via a message to their wrist or phone as they enter the store or drive up to the door.

The key to success is to fail fast, learn quickly, then optimize.

Investing in pilot programs and testing for use-cases for the customer will help retailers gain valuable insights into the impact of handheld and handsfree technology. New tech options will ultimately enlarge the scope of consumer expectations, so business managers must overcome their fear of change as quickly as possible. It’s not an option. The competition who is implementing right now is capturing market share and driving larger operational efficiencies while pulling in long-term sustainable high-gross margins.

To join the conversation on technology and innovation, and how its driving and reshaping retail, be part of our GM Conference coming to Orlando Florida this June. Kevin Coupe and Tom Furphy will be our keynote speakers…

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