Ever since I was involved in developing a mobile application myself, I have gained an undue fascination of mobile application platforms – also known as, “why bother building all the component pieces, when they should be a solved problem?” The retail space is no exception, as stores feel they need to get onto the mobile bandwagon but can to easily end up reinventing the wheel without feeling the potential benefits.
Solving this is not as simple as it seems – retailers want to be customer focused without becoming creepy; they want to optimise their interactions and grow loyalty without unnecessary intrusion; as they look to become more effective and efficient, they want to learn by doing, but their well-meant efforts can become expensive dead-ends. It’s too easy to blow the budget before achieving the goals, even if these are known at the outset.
Faced with such dilemmas, the availability of a platform of components for ‘smarter’ retail would appear to be a boon. So, what gives? I had an email exchange with Thinaire CEO, Mike Ventimiglia, to find out more.
1. In the face of an increasingly diverse pool of “smart” retail solutions, what is the problem Thinaire sets out to solve?
For far too many retailers, a customer that doesn’t have their branded app, and isn’t logged in, is essentially invisible. On top of that, when we ask retailers about the penetration rates of their apps, we generally get numbers well under 10%, which is frighteningly low. That’s often where the conversation with Thinaire starts: our technologies dramatically lowers the effort required by consumers to access the full range of smarter retail solutions.
Whether it’s fine-grained location data driving product positioning, advanced loyalty programs, shelf-talkers, unattended retail, or all of the above and more, Thinaire reduces friction, simplifies delivery, and derives meaningful data at every stage of the customer journey. In many cases Thinaire is able to deliver measurably better retail experiences with no requirement for an app, and we offer a range of no-capex options if there is any infrastructure required to support any particular deployment.
2. What consumer demographics are driving the need for digitally oriented solutions?
We know that under 25’s spend, on average, 9 hours per day curating their digital selves, and other cohorts are not far behind. Everyone demands that their smart device intercede with the real world for them!
This data signals, among other things, a massive and growing demand for content to support each individual’s “personal brand.” So retail brands that frictionlessly deliver images, video, offers, experiences, etc. aligned with customers’ “personal brands.” This will generate a large pool of passionate advocates by making authentic personal recommendations, and hence building their brands concurrently.
3. And meanwhile, what kinds of efficiency savings can be had by smarter use of in-store technology?
The future of retail is either extremely high-touch, or no-touch. In other words, fully digitally connected, personalized immersive experiences, or simply “get out of my way” unattended.
To realize efficiencies from “high-touch,” cycle time is absolutely key. So technology that already knows who you are and what you want before you’re even in the retail space (for example) can powerfully assist in delivering faster turnaround. Thinaire’s “virtual loyalty” technologies are deployed to provide exactly this capability.
The drivers of “no-touch” are quite different. For these applications Thinaire’s technologies are put to use (for example) replacing expensive and failure-prone kiosks, with simpler, cheaper, faster all-screen units more responsive to the customer’s smart device by leveraging the device’s own capabilities.
4. How ‘digitally ready’ does an organisation have to be to adopt solutions such as Thinaire?
Our customers range from digital natives, to analog high-touch retailers taking their first steps in digital by customer demand.
Our ability to deploy both the hardware and the software required for even the most complex requirement means we are truly “full service.” On the other hand, if the customer just wants smarter sensors to pour quality data into their digitally-aware CRM, we can do that too.
5. How are things going to evolve in the next 3-5 years would you say?
There’s a wonderful video on YouTube of a 3-year-old interacting with a printed photograph. She attempts to make it zoom by pinching her fingers, and then immediately hands it to Mommy, insisting “It’s broken!” Of course, given her expectations of how photos work on her parent’s devices, for her it really is broken!
That’s a metaphor for the next 3-5 years in retail. Retailers that don’t meet consumer expectations by leveraging all the capabilities of customer’s smart devices will be seen by those same customers as “broken.”
My Take: People will always buy, but how?
The retail industry, which has often been cited as slow to the digital revolution party, is seeing the world change beneath its feet. While retail organisations may be seen as the blocker, if the problem was so simple to solve, most retailers would have changed by now. But simply saying “you need to think omni-channel,” or “how about digital transformation,” comes up against issues of integration, of supply chain complexity and of a fast-moving environment which cannot afford to stop for a day, never mind the weeks required to make a sustainable difference.
Technology can obviously help, particularly pre-tested platforms of functionality such as Thinaire. Few startups are building from scratch, but generally they target a specific problem whereas major retailers have to cover all their bases. Meanwhile the number of retail, marketing and advertising technology providers continues to proliferate, increasing the pressure to succeed at the same time as reducing clarity on the viable options.
Nonetheless, the starting point has to be a recognition that retailers cannot go it alone, but need to rely on a technology platform. There is simply no time to re-invent the wheel: using pre-built capabilities, retailers can learn more quickly about the needs of their customers, their stores, their offerings and their processes. Failing fast, improving and then succeeding has to be a better option than just failing.