01 Dec Please Mind the Gap
Please Mind the Gap
Those of you who work in or visit London and travel on the ageing but venerable London Underground will be very familiar with he expression “please mind the gap”. Recently, whilst attending the Internet Retailing Conference in London, it occurred to me that another, perhaps less immediately obvious gap is in the process of opening up. I’m talking specifically about the gap between the vast, exciting, almost limitless possibilities that today’s ‘connected devices’ theoretically afford us, when contrasted with the somewhat conspicuous absence of genuinely noteworthy implementations of those technologies ‘on the ground’ so to speak.
With this innovative tech at their disposal, one might imagine that the high street should by now be awash with new-fangled, cutting-edge attempts to relieve us, the consumer, of our hard earned cash in a bewildering array of innovative and exciting new ways. But clearly, this isn’t the case.
Whilst consumers and retailers alike seem theoretically to be bought into the concept of an omni-channel world, the technology is certainly taking it’s time to appear ‘en masse’ on the high street. Meanwhile, the very high street itself continues to atrophy at an alarming rate, with shoppers, bankers and bill payers increasingly preferring to perform these functions in the comfort of their own homes, or whilst ‘on the move’ via a rapidly expanding array of smart, connected devices.
So… why is there such a significant gap between ‘what’s possible’ and what’s actually happening? And how do we close the gap and start to think about delivering far more ‘joined up’ consumer experiences?
Well, for a start, there are multiple players and stakeholders involved. The ‘technology’ sector is largely focused on providing physical devices or specific software solutions, without necessarily giving much thought to the wider marketplace or user journey, not to mention even more esoteric concepts such as ‘brand experience’.
Similarly, from our own experience, and often by their own admission, many within the creative and consulting sectors lack a genuine depth of understanding when it comes to the real capabilities and possibilities offered by the world of connected devices. Yes, there are undoubtedly conversations, some serious, about RFID, Beacons and ‘the IOT’ taking place, between clients and agencies, but there is also a sense that these things are still somewhat ‘out there’ as opposed to being absolutely core to delivering a viable level of service to modern consumers.
There is a gap therefore, a chasm even, between idea and implementation where ideas are often “dialled back” to more mundane levels in the mistaken belief that true omni-channel just isn’t a priority. Let’s face it. In a world where it’s still not impossible to find major brands failing to deliver appropriate, well thought through mobile experiences, how long are we likely to have to wait to see this kind of thinking filter through to physical devices?
As an industry we need to avoid a silo mentality and look around for enabling technologies that complement and enhance the things we already understand well. Conversely we need to stop worrying about personal devices such as mobiles, tablets and watches superseding more traditional ‘physical devices and start looking at how proper creative use of interactive technology such as in-store displays can actually drive increased adoption of mobile apps. Interactive digital displays can provide a compelling user experience and may often form the start of a user journey that begins with an attractive, vibrant display, then continues on to a mobile device and ultimately transitions seamlessly to in-store or internet based purchasing. The aim of all this of course, being to win the hearts and minds of consumers by making all of this as seamless, enjoyable and rewarding as possible, therefore ensuring the development of ‘brand love’ and, ultimately repeat business and increased customer retention.
A perfect opportunity for this type of cross-channel synergy is presented by the current darling of the retail world: the beacon. A beacon by itself is useless. It’s not noticeable and it’s essentially mute unless the customer has already opted in and allowed the beacon to talk to them through their mobile app. Digital signage or an interactive kiosk is the perfect gateway to advertise and inform the customer of the benefits of this type of interactive experience. An interactive kiosk is completely non-committal. A customer can walk away at any time, however if you can sell your customer on the benefit of the beacon technology, through a promotion or just a compelling user experience, thereafter you have the priceless opportunity to provide a true contextual experience to that customer.
Whilst these kinds of joined-up applications might seem fairly obvious and no doubt could be cost effectively implemented the fact remains that we just aren’t yet seeing a lot of this kind of stuff making it to the high street. And both the jaded high street and the even more jaded consumer are worse off as a result.
So maybe, ultimately it’s up to us as an industry to close this gap, by proactively spreading the word and doing our bit to ensure that the creative industries fully understand what part the clever tech we’re all familiar with can play in helping them create seamless, unique, branded, user experiences designed to delight and enthral consumers like never before.