Wireless-fidelity (Wi-Fi) technology has now led to ‘Li-Fi’ optical networks, which use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to transmit information through the visible portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. For retailers, one particularly relevant application of this technology is to track customers’ movements within a store.
Li-Fi has much greater potential, however, as a ‘pipeline’ for all possible forms of data transfers from the store’s front-end POS systems. It could even be used to help synchronize data with a warehouse, check for required merchandise and place advance inventory requests. Savvy retailers have also considered the possibility of using Li-Fi to help direct their customers right from when they enter a store to the exact position of the merchandise they are seeking, through a combination of interactive touch screens, back-office co-ordination systems and/or customer services.
While these new technologies are certainly exciting, there will be substantial challenges in getting them all to work well together and create a seamless experience for customers.
It can certainly be intimidating to implement such systems in a way that will be scalable in the future and will support useful campaigns, rather than just creating a tangled technological mess. One of the main tricks with digital signage, for example, will be determining how to tailor a message to a single, targeted customer if multiple people are looking at a display at the same time.
The integration of these new technologies can also quickly become cumbersome to retailers’ own information technology (IT) departments. There is a new risk of interdepartmental friction if a retailer’s omni-channel strategy entails a number of departments—e.g. both marketing and IT—having jurisdiction over its digital signage displays.
Currently, the deployment of these technologies could be described as piecemeal at best. While digital signage itself is a relatively mature industry, the ‘rapid growth’ stage for the integration of omni-channel technologies is still roughly three to four years away. Complete integrations will be tested in big cities first, before spreading to smaller markets.
That said, some of the aforementioned applications have already proven highly influential. Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, for example, has done a good job of creating an immersive technological experience in her stores by installing interactive ‘digital mirrors,’ leading to three times the expected sales figures. Canada’s own Holt Renfrew has been a pioneer in using large-scale digital signage as an expressive canvas in its stores. And while Target failed in the Canadian market, some of its U.S. locations have successfully deployed in-store beacons to deliver the perks of online shopping to their customers.
A force to be reckoned with
In the final analysis, the purpose of omni-channel strategies is to create useful interactions with customers. With that in mind, the technology should ideally be connected to a retailer’s customer relationship management (CRM) and POS software. This way, identifying customers and sending relevant messages to them can make the collection of ‘big data’ immediately useful.
Today’s ‘millennial’ customers are already well-accustomed to providing their personal information in return for services that make their lives simpler. The rise of this generation’s purchasing power will help accelerate the adoption of omni-channel technologies.
As today’s and tomorrow’s customers continue to demand an ever-more personalized shopping experience, the integration of digital signage with highly interactive technologies and marketing platforms will create a new retail force to be reckoned with.
Nate Remmes is vice-president (VP) of corporate development for NanoLumens, which manufactures customized, thin, light, scalable and curved digital signage displays. For more information, visit www.nanolumens.com.