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Maximizing Customer Experience While Minimizing The ‘Creep Factor’

It’s 3pm on Thursday afternoon and your stomach is growling. You know that you need to go to the grocery store but you hate to wait in those long lines because your kids have soccer practice, piano lessons and homework to do. Suddenly your smartphone sends you an alert letting you know that at 4:45pm your grocery store will be a ghost town, you will be able to get a parking spot in the front row, and there will be plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables available because the produce truck is unloading and the department is being stocked right now.

Although this scenario is not yet a day-to-day reality, it’s not too far off in the near future if the power of in-store tracking continues to evolve. This type of personalization shows the potential of what in-store tracking in a brick and mortar outlet can provide to customers, and is a model that holds great promise for retailers. It goes well beyond the basic discount app and promotes an all-encompassing mobile lifestyle; one that combines the power of a wide range of technologies, providing unique value to consumers, with the promise of making shoppers lives easier. However, obtaining this type of in-store data has made some consumers nervous and has raised privacy issues retailers can dispel by building trust and communicating the positive benefits such tracking systems can provide.

Over the last decade shoppers have come to expect personalized offers like product suggestions or special promotions from online retailers like Amazon, Zappos, Pandora and Netflix. There’s a perceived comfort many have when sites track purchase behavior — on home computers — but it often becomes a different story when shoppers enter a brick and mortar retailer with their cell phone.  The creep factor — or the fine line between personalization and privacy invasion — seems to escalate when shoppers know they are being watched by a surveillance camera, tracked via their Blue Tooth or WiFi, or analyzed by facial recognition software at the cash register that tailors marketing messages to a customer’s gender, age and mood at the time of purchase.    

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So, how does a savvy retailer walk the fine line of adding value to a shopper’s in-store experience, while not giving them the impression that their every movement is being stalked? One answer is to make it easy for customers to opt-in or opt-out of in-store tracking. By allowing shoppers to choose whether to opt-in, for example by downloading an app or signing up for a loyalty card, it gives customers the power to agree (in the terms of service) to allow tracking.  If, however, a shopper wants to opt-out, make the process easy; don’t require them to visit an obscure website or call a hard-to-reach customer service center. If you do, it may create a negative view of your company, product or service.

Another way to alleviate shoppers’ concerns about privacy issues is to make it clear what information you are collecting, why you are collecting it, and how it can benefit them. For instance, if customers know that they will ultimately save time and money with an app guiding them to products that they like (or would potentially like based upon past buying behavior) and are being offered at a discount, they are more likely to see the value of in-store tracking. In order for in-store tracking to evolve into a must-have tool consumers can’t live without, a basic level of trust between retailer and consumer needs to be established and fostered so retailers can continue to determine future buying habits and influence consumer behavior.

Retailers like Walmart already have begun to seamlessly integrate their online and brick and mortar stores with an app that allows consumers to connect from a single interface whether in-store, at home or anywhere in-between. Users who open up Walmart’s app while in one of its physical locations are offered the option to turn on ‘store mode,’ automatically connecting them to the layout and inventory in a particular location. If an item they’re looking for isn’t in stock, users are given the option of purchasing it online. From the shopper’s point of view, this app is all about making their in-store experience easier and faster.

But Walmart is also reaping some serious rewards by increasing the likelihood shoppers buy right then and there. In the first 2 weeks of the app’s launch alone, Walmart reported that 60% of app users turned on store mode and 12% of its online sales made through the app came from users inside its brick-and-mortar locations, according to CNET News. 

Progressive retailers that choose to leverage mobile technology and provide real time- and cost-saving solutions to customers, can overcome privacy concerns and become an essential part of shoppers’ lives. So one day, in the not so distant future, you won’t even have to remember to go to the store, your smartphone will tell you when to go and exactly what you need to get… and even have it delivered to your house by the time you get home from work. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Giovanni DeMeo is Vice President of Global Marketing and Analytics at Interactions and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Global Economic Leadership with a proposed dissertation topic focused on predictive analytics at the University of San Diego. Headquartered in San Diego, CA, Interactions offers product demonstrations and event marketing for retailers and brands. For more, visit www.interactionsmarketing.com.

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