There is a growing shift in consumer behaviour, with many shoppers abandoning bricks and mortar in favour of shopping on the go via a website or an app. Consumer spending shrank by 2% in October last year, the fastest year-on-year decline in four years according to credit card provider Visa. Footfall across UK retail outlets decreased by 3.5 per cent year-on-year towards the end of 2017, the steepest decline in almost five years, according to Springboard.
This shift in consumer behaviour poses a great opportunity for businesses to tap into. Whilst improving instore experience is paramount, using the latest technology and innovation to attract and retain consumers to your website or mobile app is key. Household consumer brands have traditionally struggled to jump on the ‘innovative technology’ bandwagon, leaving it to Silicon Valley to play with the likes of AR (augmented reality), AI (artificial intelligence), Image and Voice Recognition. In many respects brands have been right to do so, as innovation for innovation’s sake will do nothing for a brand except drain hard-earned cash.
However, mainstream brands like ASOS are now finding ways to utilise these technologies to improve the consumer’s experience - its app hit the App Store last year with ‘image search functionality’. This feature allows shoppers (80% of which choose to browse on a mobile device) to forego fiddly filters and clunky search functions and simply snap, or upload an image of what they are looking for, and ASOS will return the closest matches in its directory. With the recent trend of smartphones putting image recognition centre stage when it comes to user experience, brands like ASOS are right to stay ahead of the curve and align their shopping experience with the tools we now all carry around in our pockets.
IKEA has gone beyond the once innovative ‘room builder’ feature to incorporate the much-touted term “Augmented Reality” within the browsing experience. In September last year, IKEA released an app called IKEA Place that would place products in a consumer’s reality, using the end user’s phone camera and Apple’s ARKit augmented reality. A consumer simply scans a room, chooses an item from the catalogue, and can visualise whether a particular coﬀee table fits neatly in the space between the sofa and the TV. The app is in the early stages and arguably hasn’t quite nailed the user experience, but the idea is quite revolutionary for the consumer and if anything, proved an excellent talking point for the brand. It may not be perfect, but IKEA is demonstrating the concept in a world where ‘try before you buy’ is more meaningful than ever.
2017 was the year for high street names embracing these technologies in a truly useful way across the board - RBS’s digital assistant, L’Oreal’s hair and makeup trial apps and Starbucks’ integration with Amazon’s Echo are a few oﬀerings now on the market, taking instant gratification and personalisation to the next level.
With new technologies there are always those who will resist, and those who will embrace. The big names flexing their muscles in this arena are already playing a part in changing the way people interact with brands, and the consensus is that there is no real option but to follow suit. This technology is more accessible than ever - the frameworks (like Apple’s ARKit that was used to build IKEA Place) are in place, the technologies are supported, and brands are no longer in a position where they will face a ‘boo.com’ style disaster. boo.com, if you weren’t aware, was one of thefirst e-commerce ‘virtual assistants’ back in 2000 that took $160 million to build, and then proceeded to crash virtually any device a user tried to access it on.
As techies, we are naturally on the ‘embrace’ end of the scale, and we recognise that with advancements in technology, these ideas are no longer out of reach and certainly not as daunting as they sound for the average consumer brand. In short, the big guys have done a lot of the work for us and consumers are equipped and ready for tomorrow’s experience - now is the time for marketers to come forward with their ‘hare-brained’ ideas and leave the rest to techies like us, and we can’t wait to get stuck in.
All hare-brained ideas welcome @ firstname.lastname@example.org
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