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Andrew Bowyer, Digital Director

Imagine this scenario;

“As a store manager, I had a feeling that when the stores were too busy, it made it harder for our advisors to sell the big ticket items which need a more consultative sell.

If I’m right, the implications could be huge, a fundamental shift from chasing footfall, to maintaining the optimal number of shoppers in the store.

All I need is some data to back up my hunch and make my case.

But my retail analytic software helped me, I checked out a chart in the dashboard that correlated footfall and basket size averaged across my Tier 1 stores and there it was, clear as day.”

Have you ever heard anyone talk about organising retail environments in this way? As Digital Director for Green Room, I often use this example to highlight the obstacles that retailers face when initiating data projects within their stores. Whilst simultaneously demonstrating the potential of well utilised retail data collection and analytics.

A solution to this scenario can certainly be delivered, but generally retailers do not have immediate access to the data that can initiate quick reactions to data insights in the ways our friends in e-commerce take for granted.

I put this inability to be digitally flexible at retail down to 3 problem areas…

1. A lack of tinkering

Tinkering, hacking, prototyping, call it what you will, but not enough of it goes on. The web is fuelled by bedroom developers and freelancers who beaver away on their own projects in their spare time to solve problems and find new ways of doing things. The physical nature of retail makes this more difficult but also, the teams around the projects come from a different place; they tend to turn to solution vendors with a brief, rather than work in a more agile way to experiment. And if your heckles are up thinking ‘that sounds expensive’, consider instead the cost of getting it wrong, or actually not failing early enough.

[solution] Don’t just brief the developers, work with them. Build partnerships. Be prepared to fail, but find a way to do it early and at low initial cost.

2. Stores are all shapes and sizes

Developing robust solutions for an estate of stores is difficult, but that’s not an excuse to step away from the opportunity. By using more flexible solutions and processes which categorise the digital content, for example into a menu of attract, engage and connect touchpoints with associated screen sizes and KPIs, this can help smooth through a roll out.

[solution] compartmentalise the digital offering into a menu of more adaptable options, and reuse relevant content wherever possible (e.g. on website content) to populate the touchpoints.

3. Systems that don’t play nicely together

This is a biggy and a symptom of the vendor-controlled nature of digital in retail. The retail world is going nuts over the Internet of Things, partly because the idea that different devices should work together in a happy ecosystem is alien to the sector. I should imagine that many technology IP owners are sweating. Until now, they’ve had it their own way but attitudes are about to change as brands start to demand more interconnectivity and more technical transparency. Right now the system isn’t smart enough; we shouldn’t have to embark on a custom development project just to pull data out of one system and use it to influence another.

I should imagine that many technology IP owners are sweating. Until now, they’ve had it their own way but attitudes are about to change as brands start to demand more interconnectivity and more technical transparency. Right now the system isn’t smart enough; we shouldn’t have to embark on a custom development project just to pull data out of one system and use it to influence another.

Brands can play a big role in driving the change, but there is a great big reason why, in this area, as in many others, physical retail lacks the agility of e-comm; stability. The web evolves and reinvents at such an incredible rate because it is inherently unstable. It is always a bit broken. A world permanently in beta.

There are perfectly good reasons why retailers can’t or won’t embrace instability (no one enjoys a blue screen where their content used to be). This aversion to risk can drive to us towards expert vendors, who have expert technology solutions, at expert prices. They’re sharing the risk and are rightly rewarded. I’m not doing technology partners a disservice, many achieve incredible things, but if we don’t embrace a complementary method of tinkering, prototyping and hacking, then we run the risk of only ever finding large solutions to small challenges.

[solution] hold on tight, we’re getting there with this one, keep demanding connectivity and transparency and being part of the change.


What next?

At Green Room we’ve undertaken many digital retail projects for our clients in which we’ve developed bespoke solutions to everything from ‘digital shoe selectors’ to touch-initiated, digitally-sensory, chain-reactions. We enjoy living in beta but we are realists too and embrace the challenge of a unique digital solution to a retail problem.