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Jared Schiffman: The Happy (Digital) Medium

Retailers' in-store technology shouldn't overcomplicate the shopping experience.

Jared Schiffman
Jared Schiffman on November 17, 2013.

Retail is on the verge of fundamentally changing its mindset around the use of technology. As new technologies become available and shoppers embrace online and mobile environments, retailers are seeking to understand the role technology and digital media should play in-store.

At PERCH, we work with online retailers wanting to bring the digital experience into a physical space, and with brick-and-mortar retailers wishing to delight store visitors with digital experiences while retaining the sensory depth of physical interaction. With our retail partners, we see how the future of retail is about designing an interactive experience that engages the senses, furthers the connection between shopper and product, and combines the best of analog and digital. And, most importantly, this experience must work for both the shopper and the retailer.

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The right time and place

To date, many retail technology solutions have created an imbalance between the shopper and the retailer. Mobile solutions in-store depend too much on the shopper to be effective for the retailer or enjoyable for the customer. A customer must elect to take out his or her phone, volunteer to download an app, access a special website, or enable a new phone feature like Bluetooth, NFC, or a QR code scanner. The percentage of customers who follow through and make use of in-store mobile solutions is exceptionally small. Furthermore, by inviting shoppers to take out their phones, retailers are inadvertently tempting customers to research competitors’ pricing while simultaneously distracting themselves from the products being sold.

Meanwhile, standalone touchscreen technologies in-store demand too much of the shopper. Once again, these systems are distracting shoppers from actually shopping. Of course, that is assuming they are used at all. Most touchscreen systems are overloaded with functionality and content. They work under the assumption that if the net is cast wide enough, the retailer will catch at least a few fish. This model functions well for a website where there are millions of visitors, where the visitors have a fair amount of time and where visitors arrive with a search mentality in mind. In-store, however, shoppers come to shop – to touch and feel the products on display. A touchscreen offers limited additional value and is oftentimes less engaging than the products they are browsing.

Retailers are finding that they must use technology to find a sweet spot in the middle that benefits both the retailer and the shopper. Technology should focus the shopper’s attention on the product while providing an enjoyable and relevant experience. Technology must arrive just when a shopper needs it, like a helpful sales associate, providing information and advice. Technology should reward the shopper with an experience that hits all the right notes at exactly the right time.

That special feeling

To create a positive and memorable experience for the shopper, we must remember that shopping is emotion. Whether it is as humdrum as the weekly grocery shopping trip – which connects us to the way we care and protect ourselves and our families – or the sense of adventure that comes with exploring a new camera, choosing the perfect party outfit, or trying a new skincare range. We feel a connection with the products we choose, and a sense of excitement, joy, relief at having found what we need. Technology must understand this and should help to further that connection.

We must use technology to make the connection between shopper and product come to life and to build upon the existing sensory experience. Despite the explosion of new technologies and the increased acceptance of online and mobile shopping, this basic emotive connection does not go away. The physical shopping experience must ignite the senses – letting us touch, smell, see, sample – and awaken our emotions. We want and expect technology to excite and delight us, to guide us along a path of exploration and help us build confidence in our shopping decisions. Technology must enhance, not distract, from the sensory experience to create a world around the connection between a product and shopper.

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All together now

What if technology did not have to come between a shopper and a brand’s products? What if, instead, technology could provide a platform on the sales floor that would create a sensory experience with a brand’s products for the shopper — digital content helping to frame that interaction, not stand between it? This is the experience we have seen online retailers like BaubleBar and Mr Porter seek to create in pop-up stores. It is the experience we see retail giants like Cole Haan want to offer their clientele, to bring back a sense of exploration and discovery to in-store merchandise displays. It is why Rachel Shechtman, founder of retail concept STORY says, “PERCH technology enables us to create a relevant connection between our physical offline experience, paired with compelling digital content, and the result is meaningful consumer engagement.”

Technology can now be used to create a coherent, sensory moment that comes alive when the shopper touches and picks up the product – to reveal content at the moment of contact – and to allow the shopper to dig deeper to find out more. This is the happy medium between shopper and retailer and it is the place where technology not only belongs, but can also be most effective.  This is the future of retail

Jared Schiffman lives at the intersection of design, computer science and education. Recently named a “Digital Maverick” by DETAILS magazine, Jared’s work fuses the physical world with the digital world and plays with relationship between the two. He is the founder of Perch Interactive Inc, a startup intent on revolutionizing the retail environment, starting with its first product PERCH. He is also a Principal at Potion, an award-winning interactive design and technology firm founded in 2005. Jared is an Adjunct Professor at NYU and holds two degrees from MIT.

Photos by Insider Trends, UQR and Event Design Mag

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