In retail parlance, the expression “everything must go” has always been enough to work shoppers into a frenzy. Now it’s time for the retailers to turn breathless, as the expression for these wondrous high-tech times might as well be “everything must go now.”
“I’ve been in the retail space since the mid-1990s, and I’ve never seen innovation this fast before—the pace and the adoption,” says Stacey Shulman, chief innovation officer of Intel’s retail solutions division. “Heat mapping, dwell analysis and computer vision have been around since 2014, so it’s not new, but adopting the tech is more of the standard, and we see object detection on the shelves, with flying drones that scan shelves to see which items are on or not on them, and whether they’re stocked correctly.”
The marvels hardly stop there. Working hand in hand with revolutionized retail is a new paradigm for marketing that marks a major, historical shift in reaching and engaging the potential customer.
The ABCs Of “AAA Compliant”
Maroun Ishac, business development director of Intel’s retail solutions division, describes this new marketing playbook as “AAA Compliant.” That stands for “addressable, accountable and attributable,” three characteristics that mark and measure the efficacy of a message intended for the consumer—right down to the individual level.
First, there’s the medium through which this transpires: the digital out-of-home screen, also known as a DOOH. As opposed to a network TV screen (which, like a billboard, sprays out ads indiscriminately), the DOOH attunes to real-time human activity around it, activating the message and thus increasing “the efficacy of ad spend,” as Ishac says. In this context, addressable “means you can programmatically activate the ad when you have the right consumer or audience out in front of the screen,” Ishac says.
Accountable relates to the effectiveness of the message. “If a brand is trying to reach a certain demographic—let’s say millennials, a certain age bracket, or a B2B decision maker—you can determine not only who is exposed to the ad, but also who looked at it,” Ishac says. That’s incredible when you think of the concept in an old-school way: Imagine a billboard that can see a customer and know if the customer saw its message and reacted in a certain way, via data points that can be measured in facial biometrics, for example.
“Viewability is a big issue in search and mobile advertisement,” Ishac notes. “If a brand wants to invest ad money in the DOOH screen, they want to know who actually looked at the ad. Is the message relevant and resonating with the right consumer?”
The last “A”—attributable—refers to confirming the connection between the advertisement’s data science and the impact on its intended viewer. “It’s okay to talk about all the data science, but does it really make a business impact?” Ishac asks rhetorically. “Did it translate into a return on investment (ROI)? When companies spend dollars on online or mobile search, they’ve very interested in whether the online exposure results in an offline visit to the store—they call that an online-to-offline attribution.”
Ishac continues: “There are a lot of advances being made by our industry, and we can start to measure lift and/or surge due to exposure to ads on the DOOH screen. Basically, we’re starting to see our media agency planners and agencies use attribution techniques to understand how DOOH exposure created in-store lift.”
Affordable Retail Solutions
If a consumer makes the leap from helpful message to in-store visit, what might that experience hold for them? Amazon Go has made headlines of late, just opening up one of its latest, fully automated stores in Chicago. Using machine vision, IoT sensors and a mobile app swiped at the store entrance, Amazon Go showcases what the company calls “just walk out technology.”
Amazon’s take on grabbing what you want and skipping a cashier line is considered something of a pilot program here in the U.S, but in China, it’s becoming a way of retail life, where “there are hundreds of these type stores already,” says Shulman.
This streamlined, seamless shopping experience has just as many benefits behind the scenes as it does on the customer-facing side. “Amazon is getting more data about that offline shopper than anyone has ever had, and they’re doing it in a meticulous, scientific way,” Schulman says.
While Amazon is a giant company worth some $777 billion, it would be a mistake to conclude that the current wave of retail technology can’t benefit small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). There’s also some good news, Shulman says, when it comes to that key variable: affordability.
“It’s probably the top concern I hear from retail, and I’ve spent most of my time in the SMB solutions space,” she says. “But it’s actually much more affordable if smaller businesses take the right approaches. There are lots of solutions in the open-source community; we’re in that community, and we’re putting a lot of time into finding these high-tech gems for retail and making the SMB community more aware of what’s going on there.”
On both the retail and marketing ends, it’s really about realizing a compelling vision of the future. “For every impression, we’ll precisely track it and measure audience engagement in real time,” Ishac says. “With an AI-enabled camera and computer vision, we’ll convert that engagement to data and, in less than 10 milliseconds, have all the relevant information in terms of demographic, age, gender, emotions—even how long they looked at the screen.”
That’s impressive—and ultimately, immersive. “We’ll see people co-shop in virtual worlds to gather in ways that are more immersive and interactive—to bring the social aspect back that e-commerce can’t provide,” Shulman says. “It will be a disruptor.”