We define the internet of me, as a one-off network comprised of an individual set of principles, preferences, and location-based conveniences harvested through customer segmentation databases, and applied to a dynamic commerce model.
How do we forge technologies intuitive to our consumers' demands? Big data. What will be the number one retail imperative this year? Big data. How do we foster lasting peace and cure world hunger? Uh…big data? Maybe we cannot answer that last question with the same certainty we answer the first two, but it certainly seems like big data is our new retail buzzword, a quick-fix to some looming disabilities brought on by the dotcom boom and exacerbated by an evolving interconnectivity.
Desktop-to-mobile syndication is now the least of our worries as loyal customers pack their bags for potentially lifelong stays with whatever brand can offer them one and one thing only: their own internet. Forrester published a report this past year suggesting just that—"customer obsessed, data-driven retailers thrive," and the only way to craft a highly personalized shopping experience is to immerse ourselves in customer data, dismantling system silos that nurture a fragmented retail environment. We define the internet of me, as a one-off network comprised of an individual set of principles, preferences, and location-based conveniences harvested through customer segmentation databases, and applied to a dynamic commerce model.
Looking ahead, we know 54% of retailers are focusing on implementing unified commerce initiatives, 47% are funneling resources into personalized marketing campaigns, and 51% hope to significantly increase customer engagement. The obvious way to address these resolutions is with, you guessed it, big data. But, most retailers understand that already. The real hurdle here is pinpointing opportunity for new data streams and building a software system to repurpose that information into creative outputs.
How do we arrive at productive outputs? By engineering a holistic environment for the inputs to interact within. This means bringing all systems under one roof—inventory management, CRM, POS, supply chain tracking, mobile applications, desktop applications, marketing automation, and whatever other veins your brand is flowing through. Software developers work too hard forcing conversation between systems that do not feel like talking. Unified commerce resolves the silence with common interest, building a multi-tenant architecture, where all extensions of the brand are apples from the same tree. Through a unified architecture, customers receive a truly seamless experience, seamless in a way we have not seen before; the different levels are engaged in a constant dialogue bringing the customer through the pipeline.
At first, unified commerce meant ease. Customers and employees viewed stock in real-time and gained autonomy over their shopping experience, no surprises. Customers browse the inventory of their favorite brick and mortar store, reserving their purchase for in-store pickup; or the reverse, visiting a storefront without their size and having their size shipped directly to their doorstep. Now, the system dialogue hops dialects to reflect the interests of the consumer, and through it, retailers tap into the internet of me.
Unsolicited data collection is a massive concern for consumers right now, however, the expectations have not changed. Retailers cannot provide personalization without consumer data. How can we obsess over our consumers without getting to know them? It takes a certain symbiosis. One of the ways retailers open this door is through proximity marketing; suddenly, both the retail and the customer are getting what they want. There are two technologies behind the symbiotic relationship retailers hope to grow between data collection and personalization. These technologies are near-field communication chips and beacons.
NFC chips are embedded into displays, packages, and products to dictate personalized pricing and product options as customers move through the store. The chips drive customer engagement, communicating with mobile devices that have their mobile application counterpart installed. NFC is the two-way street retail needs, allowing brands to harvest insights into shopping trends while simplifying the buying experience for the mobile phone user. Of course, a secondary perk to NFC is its application within the payments sphere, a wireless and painless transaction capability, eliminating the awkward wallet fumbling inherent to cash and plastic processing.
Beacons operate in the same way, but without the payment aspect—beacon software transmits from the hub it's installed on, connecting via Bluetooth to mobile applications to issue offers and alerts related to past purchases or the customer's current location. Off-the-shelf beacons require partners to integrate their SDK with the partner's native applications, causing a devolution whenever the partner decides to pivot. Basically, you can only pile beacon technologies on top of one another or rebuild every time you decide to change direction. Multiple SDKs in the same environment tends to get messy, so the alternative here to build your own beacon technology.
Regardless how you proceed on the beacon front, they are an indispensable part in the IoT machine. Beacons lend themselves to adaption, giving a/b testing a fighting change and helping retailers adapt marketing collateral accordingly. Going along with the duality theme, customers, in exchange, receive deals on items they were probably already planning to purchase.
L.L. Bean is really progressive on the NFC front, toying around embedded chips within their products. In embedding NFC devices into boots and coats, L.L.Bean learns how their customers are actually using their products, allowing them to compare intended use to real-life applications. These devices also have the power to collect demographic information and other consumer intelligence capable of shaping new product initiatives better suited to their consumer climate. While very cool (and a little daunting), there are simplified applications for beacon and NFC technology that every retailer can scale to their business model.
When someone says creative outputs, most think automation, which, in turn, leads us to artificial intelligence. Beacon and NFC help build the in-store internet of me, but what about out of store experience? A unified commerce model calls for holism in and out of store, back-office and front-desk. We can talk about creative outputs in a variety of ways, but in retail they're best separated into two environments: what customers see and what goes on behind the curtain.
In terms of what customers are seeing and experiencing, automation is best applied for troubleshooting, customer service support, and conversational promotion. Have you ever had a help window pop up in the corner of an E-commerce site where a "customer service" agent asks how everything is going, or received a text from an airline sending you flight information? Artificial intelligence takes a load off for retailers by resolving common queries and keeping personalized conveniences plentiful. Again, we see a two-way street here. By incorporating an AI mechanism, brands expand the internet of me, communicating in real-time without becoming over burdened by high-volume requests. The customer benefits through a heightened level of convenience and care, and the AI system experiences natural language progression through conversation, becoming smarter and more intuitive to the needs of each consumer.
The second environment AI functions best in is analytics. By giving AI all the preexisting data, the system can deduce where to go from there and how things might look in the future. This input/output scenario applies to just about everything related to forecasting—demand forecasting, merchandise planning, pricing models, promotion strategies—bringing silos closer together and customers coming back for more. Rule-based algorithms have rattled everything we know about predictive retailing and paved roads leading to customer segmentation goldmines.
If automation is too cutting edge, you are best suited channeling resources into silo consolidation, merging fulfillment, channels, and products together into one, rolling stone, while increasing connection points. By increasing connection points, retailers will find quality consumer data waiting for them. Data-driven campaign create happy customers, and happy customers stick around. What's making customers happy in the digital age? The internet of me. How do retailers build individualized commerce networks? Big data.
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