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7 E‑Commerce Shopping Innovations for Future Holidays

Con­sid­er­ing it’s the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son I fig­ured we should look into what’s on the E‑commerce hori­zon. Ray Burke direc­tor of Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty’s Cus­tomer Inter­face Lab­o­ra­to­ry has spent years ana­lyz­ing shop­ping habits. He was inter­viewed in a recent arti­cle on and he cov­ers 7 top­ics about the future of buy­ing com­mer­cial goods and con­sumer experience.

E‑commerce will become the only com­merce; with the use of Big Data and Psy­chol­o­gy they’re fig­ur­ing out nov­el ways to track your in-store behav­ior, antic­i­pate your needs, and help you find exact­ly what you need if it’s avail­able. So let’s see what 7 inno­va­tions are in “store” for us literally:

1. Track­ing Eye Movement
2. De-stress­ing Shoppers
3. Quick­er Store Exits
4. Mon­i­tor­ing Moods
5. Instan­ta­neous Prod­uct Printing
6. Intu­itive per­son­al­iza­tion through feed­back shopping
7. Shar­ing Economy

Some of these may feel very intru­sive in a “Big Broth­er” kind of way but at this very moment you still live in a con­sumer dri­ven soci­ety and mak­ing buy­ing eas­i­er keeps you hap­py and makes the retail­er rich­er. It is a twist­ed win-win sce­nario. Besides shop­ping for the hol­i­days just seems like a chore so per­haps all of these will gen­uine­ly help.

Tracking Eye Movement — “as you’re looking at the sign, the sign’s looking back at you,”

To start every­one is watch­ing, espe­cial­ly the machines (read our arti­cle on machine vision), “as you’re look­ing at the sign, the sign’s look­ing back at you,” Burke says. “Those secu­ri­ty cam­eras you see when you walk into a store?” he says. “They’re not just to pre­vent shoplift­ing. They’re also used to under­stand traf­fic pat­terns, to see which prod­ucts are most engag­ing, and to mea­sure the queue length at checkout.”

Those cam­eras are tak­ing met­rics, basi­cal­ly cat­a­loging how many peo­ple walk past, how many stop, and which parts of the sign catch their eye. By using HD cam­eras and sophis­ti­cat­ed soft­ware they can tell your gen­der, gen­er­al age, and even eth­nic­i­ty. This is a retailer’s ana­lyt­ic dream. Just by the num­ber of stops you make at spe­cif­ic prod­ucts in an aisle or shelf, they could poten­tial­ly go back and invent a prod­uct that you wouldn’t be able to resist.

De-stressing Shoppers — “All we did is do a better job of connecting what’s in the mind of the shopper with what’s physically available in the store.”

So I found this to be rather inter­est­ing, in a store at the mall it turns out few­er men came into the store than women, and those men bought few­er things.

Burke came to the res­cue and installed a panoram­ic video cam­era on the ceil­ing, with a 360-view, and dis­cov­ered two prob­lems. “We saw men pick up pants and shirts and then strug­gle to fold them and put them back on the shelf in the same way,” he says.

Men are so uncom­fort­able with fold­ing and mak­ing a big­ger mess that they don’t even both­er look­ing at mer­chan­dise or enter­ing the store. “So we thought, ‘We can make it eas­i­er for them. Instead of doing the nor­mal crease fold, we just fold­ed the prod­uct in half and put it on the shelf.” Sec­ond, they con­firmed what every­one already knows: Men strug­gle to put togeth­er out­fits. “So we cre­at­ed dis­plays that showed assem­bled out­fits, not by some styl­ist but by the things real men were actu­al­ly buy­ing,” Burke says.

Believe it or not those adjust­ments allowed the retail­er an 80 per­cent increase of inter­ac­tion with the dis­plays and a 40 per­cent increase in sales. Super sig­nif­i­cant don’t you think?

“We didn’t change the assort­ment of prod­ucts; we didn’t change the prices,” he said. “All we did is do a bet­ter job of con­nect­ing what’s in the mind of the shop­per with what’s phys­i­cal­ly avail­able in the store.” It came down to tak­ing the pres­sure off.

Quicker Store Exits“It colors your whole perception of the shopping experience.”

Now I know this from first-hand expe­ri­ence, I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly mind wan­der­ing around a store look­ing for crap, but when I have to stand in ridicu­lous­ly long check­out lines, I can get pret­ty frus­trat­ed and say “to hell with this” and leave. Believe me, the retail­ers watch the cam­eras and see it hap­pen. They don’t want you jammed into a cashier line get­ting frus­trat­ed and asso­ci­at­ing that frus­tra­tion with their brand.

The Kroger’s gro­cery chain, has used cam­eras to mon­i­tor how long its cus­tomers wait in line and open­ing extra check­out lines as need­ed, the com­pa­ny has been able to cut wait times from about 4 min­utes down to 30 sec­onds. Oth­er retail­ers have increased the net­work con­nec­tion speeds for their cred­it card read­ers. BY doing this they’ve man­aged to increase sales on Black Fri­day by 50 per­cent. Burke says “The check­out lane is the last expe­ri­ence a shop­per has in the store.”

Monitoring Moods — “If we’re able to track what music you listen to on your device that might give us insight into your mood.”

So who is the ulti­mate lords of sell­ing use­less crap (sou­venirs and mem­o­ra­bil­ia), it’s Walt Dis­ney of course. Peo­ple spend when they’re in a good mood, espe­cial­ly impulse buys, yet
when you’re in a bad mood, no mon­ey in the retail­er coffers.

Burke says under­stand­ing these phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal states is critical.

“Let’s say that you’re wear­ing a smart watch that can mea­sure your pulse rate,” Burke says. “If it’s set it up to share infor­ma­tion with a retail­er, we could use it to know on a sec­ond-by-sec­ond basis how excit­ed you are.” Smart­phones, too, can stand in for a mood ring “and we could tai­lor the mes­sage to bet­ter con­nect when you’re feel­ing good.”

Instantaneous Product Acquisition via 3D Printing

Well this one is pret­ty self-explana­to­ry. You want some­thing, order it online and an elec­tron­ic file trans­fer is sent to your home 3D print­er. Viola!

Intuitive personalization through feedback shopping

There are even com­pa­nies that want to become your per­son­al­ized shop­per and do all the work for you. Just like a com­pa­ny called Stitch Fix (jobs at Stitch Fix) which gath­ers info on you, like fash­ion tastes, lifestyle, budget—and sends you five per­son­al­ized items on a reg­u­lar schedule.

What hap­pens is you keep what you want and return the rest. As time goes by your feed­back allows the com­pa­ny to learn your pref­er­ences. It becomes so intu­itive about your needs that it can antic­i­pate what you want and sells you things you didn’t know you need­ed (or want­ed) to begin with.

Sharing EconomyThe success of companies like Uber and Airbnb are proof of that.

Shop­ping is all about buy­ing and but what if you only had a lim­it­ed need for the prod­uct or ser­vice. Burke thinks shar­ing ser­vices are the future. The suc­cess of com­pa­nies like Uber and Airbnb are proof of that. “I think we’re see­ing a trend towards a shar­ing econ­o­my, where through tech­nol­o­gy it’s becom­ing prac­ti­cal to use prod­ucts just for a peri­od of time that we need them and then return them.” The real­i­ty is any­thing you buy over time typ­i­cal­ly depre­ci­ates any­way so keep­ing some­thing on hand that you may only use once is a drain in mon­ey and space, remem­ber that clos­et filled with stuff you haven’t used or looked at in 15 years.

You know the say­ing about buy­ing peo­ple things that you would buy for your­self, well that makes per­fect sense in a shar­ing econ­o­my, so make sure in the next few years dur­ing the hol­i­day gift buy­ing sea­son you find some real­ly great things because what goes around comes around.

Image cour­tesy of Ray Burke/Indiana Uni­ver­si­ty’s Cus­tomer Inter­face Laboratory.

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