from the information-is-king dept
This post is part of an Intel-sponsored series of posts we'll be doing here at Techdirt on the topic of innovation. The series consists of a video interview of myself (which you'll see below), the post, and another video interview with an Intel representative and others. That second video, obviously, is content from Intel, but my video and what I've written here was done with complete and total editorial independence. We hope you enjoy the content and take part in the overall discussion.
I tend to think that the real opportunities, when it comes to innovation in retail, are in making life easier, better and more efficient for shoppers -- and that applies across both online and offline retail. While many people joke about the end of offline retail, you have to remember that it has a huge benefit in immediacy. You don't have to wait a few days for people to ship things to your door. The problem, however, is people often feel that they have more information online -- reviews, comparisons, videos, etc. But there's no reason that the same sort of information can't be built into the offline retail experience as well.
In some ways, many people think that the world of physical retail is "over." It's been killed off by online retail. In fact, I recently heard someone refer to the challenge faced by a large brick-and-mortar retailer as "having to do more than be Amazon's showroom." But there are some interesting opportunities coming. First up, here's a brief video of me discussing the possibilities:
In some ways, this is already happening via smartphones. The fact that people can access all sorts of content via their smartphones means that some of that information is already there. But the next challenge will be for retailers themselves to provide more value through realtime information as well. The challenge is in making sure that information is really what's useful to the consumer, and not just useful to the retailer. The temptation will be to provide limited and/or biased information to push people into buying as soon as possible (and possibly the most expensive item). But unbiased and fair information can build up trust, and trust can make a buying decision much easier.
Beyond just the obvious stuff of providing the same kind of online information (reviews/specs/videos) to people in a store, let's take things a step further. Imagine a kind of open API that allows for others to provide additional information about a product. If you're buying vegetables, imagine an API that lets you easily find suggested recipes for those vegetables -- which could also check with a listing of what you already have at home and/or the store you're in and other nearby stores, to figure out how to buy whatever else you need.
For years, we've heard of retailers dreaming up the ability to text message you with a coupon as you walked by a store -- but that's an idea that's likely to piss off plenty of people, if they don't want such things. But imagine a system that lets you let stores within a certain area bid for your business. You want a cup of coffee? Set a radius, put the coffee shops you dislike on a blacklist, determine a weighting of price vs. distance vs. taste -- and see who offers the best deal.
As with pretty much anything these days, the real disruption, and the real innovation, come in making the consumers' lives significantly better in ways they didn't expect. The tools that will work and the tools that will wow are the ones that aren't so much focused on just improving retailers, but in making the consumers' lives improve. The end result, of course, for retailers who implement such systems will likely be improved bottom lines as well, but if they're just focused on improving their bottom lines without taking the consumers' viewpoint into account, it's unlikely they'll be all that successful.
Along those lines, the real lasting benefits for retailers may come from something as simple as connecting people to other people. One of the issues I've had with buying things in the past is the uncertainty of whether or not the product is right for what I need. I recently installed a new dishwasher and it required both some new tools and some new materials. I actually ended up watching some videos online before heading down to the store to pick up things, but even then I wasn't entirely sure what I was buying was what I actually needed (turned out, it wasn't, and I ended up making two additional trips that day to the store to buy/return things). While I had asked the one random store employee I found wandering among the aisles, they weren't really sure. But imagine if, from within the store, I could explain the job, take a quick picture of certain items, and reach out to a community of experts on the subject who could let me know if I really had the right tools for the job or not.
Similarly, when I ran into problems with the install, what if various retailers could tell me what I was doing wrong/missing -- and bid for my business with a complete package of everything I needed. Best package deal -- ready and waiting for me next time I came in? Sold!
In the end, what it comes down to is that by providing more information for the consumer, allowing them to better connect and improve the overall process, you improve the whole experience. Taking the guesswork, hassle or inconvenience out of shopping can be a huge win for retailers who want to compete against the online world by offering more immediacy, more information and a better overall experience.
Below you can see a video of Intel helping to enable just that kind of retail innovation