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 Popsci.com 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 Economy — The 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.