Tracking the "Next Big Thing" in Retail Technology

I recently gave an interview where I was asked about the challenges of managing retail self-service projects given the rapid progression of in-store technology.  With the array of tactical mobile options and digital innovations, there are seemingly limitless opportunities for in-store merchandising to connect retail shoppers to the online and virtual worlds.

We can now provide a call to action for consumers to interact with content on demand on any type of retail display or self-service kiosk. Still other “next big things”, like gesture-based interfaces and virtual imaging, are competing for attention.

The challenge in planning for retail merchandising and self-service projects is navigating with our customers through the practical versus the promising.

Retailers are looking for ways to draw traffic and accelerate their omni-channel agenda in-store. Retailers and marketers straddle the line between wanting to evaluate new technologies and wanting to deliver an experience that is intuitive and accepted by consumers.

Forrester Research recently issued 2013 Mobile Trends for Marketers, which evaluated the readiness of “game changing” mobile technologies.  All of these offer the potential of being combined with in-store merchandising. To summarize their analysis:

We expect significant progress in mobile technologies in 2013 — especially around indoor positioning — but not major breakthroughs…While we believe that mobile technologies like GPS, NFC, augmented reality, image recognition, and 2D bar codes will offer phenomenal potential to enhance real-world experiences for consumers, they can’t do so in isolation.

Gaps in infrastructure, the cost of scaling, availability of specific applications on smartphones, and consumer education are all factors that marketers have to consider when making the decision about whether to incorporate promising mobile ‘’on ramps” into in-store merchandising.

Decades of attending trade shows, seeing new technologies demonstrated, engaging in trusted partnerships, and listening to retailers who are constantly taking the pulse of their customers have given us insights that help us evaluate the latest innovations.

What we know is:

    • The number of NFC enabled phones is growing but still small.
    • More people are scanning QR codes, but the absolute numbers are small. Context and content are important in making these deliver.
    • Texting behavior is more pervasive than QR code scanning.
    • Augmented reality is still a young and developing industry. ROI is an issue.
    • At the same time we are in the midst of rapid change with the ramp up in smartphone ownership – 56 percent of all U.S. adults according to PEW Research.
    • Young, active mobile users are a growing force at retail.


While a dose of reality is necessary, the pace of change and the stream of innovation should keep us continuously evaluating the parade of “next big things.” You might say it’s like driving on the highway; we’re aware of what’s right in front of us, but we’re focusing several car lengths ahead.

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