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GUEST COMMENT How connected consumer experiences can finally live up to the hype

Anyone who works in the retail sector will recognise a familiar pattern: a new product or service is launched amidst much fanfare, promising to revolutionise the way we interact with the world – only to encounter teething problems along the way, which forces a hasty retreat back to the drawing board.

Connected stores and products, along with other physical digital experiences, have certainly been caught in this vicious cycle in the past. There are numerous examples of brands attempting to take advantage of connected experiences that have ultimately fallen flat, or worse, been an active hindrance to consumers.

So, why have connected consumer experiences failed to live up to the hype so far? 

Technology takes time to mature

Looking back over the past five years, there has been one fundamental problem: the technology lacked the maturity, scalability and mass adoption to get out of its own way and simply work. 

After all, this is what consumers crave – innovative experiences that seamlessly move between multiple channels, both digital and physical, that feel both fresh and satisfying.

However, as we enter a new decade full of excitement about the possibilities ahead, there are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic that connected, digital consumer experiences are finally ready to reach their full potential.

The enabling technology has developed, smartphones can process and handle transactions in physical spaces; omnipresent cloud solutions can manage data in real-time. Couple this with cost-effective sensors, smarts cameras, screens and augmented reality – and the future looks incredibly bright for connected experiences.

But there’s still many obstacles to overcome on the journey. At Valtech, we have accrued over 20 years of knowledge in ‘engineering experiences’, and believe there are some key principles that will help brands avoid falling into the same old pattern.

Be more agile and evolve the architecture

Rather than embarking on large, unwieldy fundamental projects, try using a ‘thin-sliced approach’. This encourages experimentation and leverages available resources more efficiently. By working in smaller teams using sprint-methodologies, you can constantly push one another to come up with innovative ideas and use technology in increasingly exciting ways.

A great example of a smaller-scale activity is launching a pop-up store, which gives you freedom to experiment without the added pressure of a wider roll-out. Recently, we helped launch Dolby SoHo, an experiential pop-up space where science meets art and technology in the SoHo neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York. Visitors can experience an interactive digital showcase of audio, imaging and voice installations that feature Dolby’s ground-breaking technologies in cinema, home theatre, computing, mobile and gaming. 

This is a perfect illustration of how agile processes can lead to impressive results.

Additionally, transition your experiences and commerce platforms from single-headed – just online – to multi-headed. By using microservices, APIs, cloud and headless principles in your architecture, you can combine digital and physical interactions in a way that’s incredibly satisfying for consumers.

Don’t rush implementation and respect the human element

Before going into the intimidating implementation side of things, start new connected experience initiatives with a proper cross-functional discovery where (product) design, architecture, technology, business and logistics work hand in hand in an explorative way. 

Poorly planned consumer experiences can damage a reputation in an instant, credibility that in some cases takes years to rebuild. Customers are discerning and have increasingly short attention spans – and if you lose them once they may never come back. 

Also, retailers achieve the best results when people and technology work in tandem – each pushing each forward. What’s second nature to humans is impossible for machines to replicate, and vice versa. 

My company Valtech, witnessed this first hand when we teamed up with The Container Store to help launch their Organisation Studio, an interactive design tool and digital experience that helps customers organise their space. 

We imagined customers taking photos, videos and measurements of their organisation challenge, then uploading them to an app or website. From there, a machine-learning algorithm would create a digital solution board filled with products that solve the problem. 

But we found that an essential element was missing – human interaction. 

Once Valtech introduced a human ‘organisation expert’ who consumers could interact with, we began to see overwhelmingly positive feedback in user testing. The warmth of the human connection, along with the relationship between the customer and expert were critical in implementing a successful digital experience. 

The future of connected experiences

The sky’s the limit for the future of connected experiences, and in the next decade the relationship between consumers, the physical space and digital technologies will only continue to grow tighter.

By recognising and extensively planning for the roadblocks ahead, we can set a course that ensures retailers provide digital experiences that consumers can embrace – breaking out of the vicious circle and finally living up to the hype. 

Freek Bijl is chief strategy officer at Valtech

Main image: Fotolia

Author image courtesy of Freek Bijl/Valtech

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