Game-Changing Retail Tech: In-Store Social

January 30, 2014 Jonathan Paul

Mobile Retail

The third installment of our three-part series on new retail tech looks at the slow rise of in-store social media and how brands are using it to up in-store engagement with their customers.

There’s more socializing going on in retail stores, and it’s not because shoppers are suddenly up for a good chat at the checkout line. Canadian brands are slowly starting to weave social media into the bricks-and-mortar experience to help heighten the level of in-store engagement.

It’s a growing trend globally. In the second edition of our series on new retail tech we featured Adidas and its Neo concept stores in Europe. They feature social media mirrors that allow people to take and share photos with their social networks while trying on items.

“You can start to play with some experiences that aren’t overly expensive to try out.”

It’s still early days for in-store social in Canada, with most branded social experiences still accessed online through desktop computers or other devices. However, screens, projections, RFID integration — the building blocks of any good in-store social experience — aren’t as expensive as they used to be.

“All of that stuff is coming down in cost, and, as a result, you can start to play with some experiences that aren’t overly expensive to try out,” says Spencer Saunders, President of Toronto-based digital agency Art & Science. He’ll be presenting on bringing social in-store at Dx3 in March.

Spencer Saunders is President of Art & Science.

Saunders knows what it takes to build a social experience at bricks-and-mortar. His agency has done just that for its clients. Last fall, Art & Science worked with leather fashion retailer Danier, bringing screens into its stores and using some that were already there, to create an Instagram promotion that played off of an existing behaviour: the selfie.

“The selfie is prevalent in Instagram in particular and I think it’s often really common in fashion retail as well, where people are trying something on, they hold their phone up to their mirror image and put it out to the social net to get that real-time immediate feedback,” says Saunders. “We knew that there was an existing behaviour there. We just had to cue it properly by way of a small incentive.”

That incentive was a real-time display feed that aggregated and displayed customers’ in-store selfies, including Danier product, using the hashtag #danierstyle, which they were prompted to use by mirror decals – the low-tech part of a hi-tech experience.

“People really do look for that recognition and I think that goes a long way for a brand.”

“The #danierstyle Instagram campaign was a great example of bringing the social, device-based experience of our visual culture into the store environment,” says Saunders. “It closed the gap, so to speak, that exists between the physical in-store and digital experiences. The shorthand we used there is that it’s putting your consumer’s name up in lights. People really do look for that recognition and I think that goes a long way for a brand, being able to put a customer’s photo up under their banner.”

Art & Science ran another, less tech-dependent in-store social effort, this time for Starbucks, in November called ShareJoy. It was part of the brand’s annual holiday push. The goal was to express what “share joy” could mean through social media by bringing people unexpected happiness through Twitter. Everyday for three weeks, Starbucks gave away beverages on Twitter to people in-store in need of a pick-me-up.

“Those unexpected moments of generosity serviced the message of the campaign, the brand, and ultimately drove in-store traffic,” says Saunders.

Indeed, driving in-store traffic and increasing bricks-and-mortar engagement (especially in light of trends like webrooming and showrooming) are two particular advantages of in-store social experiences – it’s important to keep giving people a reason to come back. Whether it’s a digital execution that allows people to see their “name up in lights,” informing people about what store products are popular on social networks, or simply allowing them to vent about a bad day on Twitter, the challenge for brands is to figure out how to best funnel the resulting social interactions back in-store in order to influence purchase decisions.

That’s why experimentation is key, says Saunders, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution with in-store social media. It depends on who the brands consumers, and there desired consumers, are.

“Canadian retailers really need to take the tack that it is a new frontier, that nothing is set in stone.”

“If anything, Canadian retailers really need to take the tack that it is a new frontier, that nothing is set in stone, that, at the end of the day you’ve got to try stuff,” says Saunders. “If you wait for the right solution, or that magic potion that’s going to make it all come together, you’re going to be waiting for a very long time.”

He adds that Art & Science is counselling a lot of their clients to look at low-risk, low-cost experiments to play with the notions of bridging the in-store, bricks-and-mortar experience with the online connected and social world.

There is one theme, however, that should remain, ideally, consistent throughout in-store social executions and that’s being visual in nature. That’s why fashion, for example, is a good fit (pardon the pun) for in-store social – it’s an ever-moving target for which people will desire and seek out feedback.

“I think we’re moving to, particularly in the social space, a very visual expectation,” says Saunders. “Pinterest and Instagram, for example, are very visual mediums and I think if you look at some of the new burgeoning social networks like Polyvore, Fancy, We Heart It, they’re very visually driven.”

“Sometimes the ROI is in brand building.”

It comes down to engagement, he says, and people tend to interact based on visual stimuli. “Hey Facebook friends, check out this great shirt I got from retailer X,” Saunder provides for example.

“The greater the engagement level you develop with your consumer base, the more your message is going to get seen because naturally having these interactions take place in the social sphere means that other people are seeing them and that, I think, is the greatest potential,” says Saunders.

Engagement and other things like foot traffic aside, the big question for brands is ‘Does it lead to sales?’ However, Saunders argues that the biggest boon social offers to brands is the opportunity to build themselves up. While Instagram doesn’t link back to e-commerce sites, its strength is nailing down elusive demographics, such as that fickle group of 18-24-year-olds.

“As the old adage goes, you fish where the fish are,” says Saunders. “Sometimes the ROI is in brand building and that’s a bit more of an amorphous thing to measure. You still need to do your rigorous analytics, but what we’re asking for from clients, and I think that this is a particular demarkation from a lot of digital agencies, is that they don’t just look at their online numbers, but look at their in-store numbers as well.”

Until analytic reports are developed that demonstrate the connection points between in-store social and driving sales, expect retailers to keep on experimenting as tech costs go down. Also, expect the experiences to get gradually smaller.

“As digital wallets become more pervasive I think you’re going to start to see some of these experiences disappear from a big 42-inch screen display to a small screen display, but that small screen display is going to be incredibly personalized to you,” says Saunders.

Learn more about Spencer Saunders 5 Things Session at Dx3.

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