As I’ve previously discussed in Control Shift, in recent years there has been a profound shift where the most important internet device most people use has gone from being the desktop PC to the smartphone.
This change means mobile commerce has important implications for businesses – even those which don’t realise it yet. The good news is that, with a few simple and cost-effective changes, many small business owners can easily harness this trend.
Of course, it can be easy to become complacent and think that as long as you have an effective e-commerce site (here’s how to set one up) and take advantage of things like mobile messaging apps, you can reap all the rewards mobile has to offer.
However, the mobile revolution is not just about ordering online – it’s also revolutionising how people shop in-store. Here are four technologies that could accelerate that shift in the years ahead, including two that are being pioneered by Australian companies.
1. Google Analytics for bricks-and-mortar retailers
Website analytics services like Google Analytics have long helped savvy business owners keep track of how many people visit their websites and what products users are clicking on. But what if you could have the same data for people visiting your bricks-and-mortar store?
That’s the idea behind a company called Kepler Analytics, which was co-founded by an Australian entrepreneur named David Mah, the co-founder of successful online shopping app Blue Sky.
Here’s how it works. Most people have their smartphones set up to automatically search for Wi-Fi networks in order to connect to certain Wi-Fi hotspots when they’re in range.
To allow these automatic connections, smartphones periodically transmit small amounts of data and wait for any Wi-Fi nearby Wi-Fi routers or hot-spots to send a response. By setting up highly-accurate sensors around a store to harvest this data, combined with some software in the cloud, shopkeepers can track how their customers move about a store.
Best of all, because the sensors don’t capture any personal information and all the data is presented in aggregate form, there’s no loss of privacy for customers. Meanwhile, business owners can capture valuable data on in-store marketing ROI, visual merchandising effectiveness and conversion rates.
2. A bright idea for helping shoppers
A couple of weeks ago, I asked whether investing in smart lights is a bright idea. Well, it’s about to get a whole lot smarter for retailers – and here’s how.
US tech giants GE Lighting and Qualcomm have this week released a new type of LED light globe, with each one having a unique pulse pattern. These split-second pulses are so fast they’re imperceptible to the naked eye – but can be captured by the camera on a shopper’s smartphone or tablet.
An app on that smartphone or tablet, in turn, can identify where it is in a store based on these flicker patterns.
As a result, these flicker patterns can be used to trigger a range of features in a user’s device, including in-store navigation, suggested items, product information, and special offers.
3. Wired for sound
So what sort of potential is there for location-aware apps?
Recently, a Canberra-based design studio called APositive won an award for an app that responds to location data to play audio.
Its demonstration app, called Arboretum, tracks a user’s location around the National Arboretum in Canberra and plays different soundscapes play depending on what trees you are near. So standing near a cedar will produce a Himalayan soundscape, while there’s a Portuguese soundscape that plays for people standing near cork oak trees.
Now, imagine a technology such as this in a retail setting combined with the GE Lighting/Qualcomm smart globes. Perhaps customers with headphones could listen to a spiel about that new TV they’re standing next to as they move around a store, as information appears on the screen of their smartphone.
4. Smart technology pays
While mass adoption of the other three technologies on this list is still some way off, there is another place where mobile technology is revolutionising retail, and that’s the checkout queue.
Recently, I spoke to a Bendigo café owner who now takes his orders and payments on tablets. For payments, he uses the mobile payment platform Square, along with an app called Fresh KDS for taking orders.
Aside from the convenience of real-time tracking instead of pen and paper ordering, he has an online dashboard that checks how his sales are going if he can’t be in the store.
And in the very near future, mobile payment technologies such as Apple Pay and its rivals promise to make paying for sales as simple as tapping a smartphone against a tablet.
From tracking shoppers around your store, feeding special offers depending on which aisles they’re in, providing them with audio cues and allowing them to pay directly through an app, smartphones are set to revolutionise the in-store experience for shoppers over the coming years.