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GUEST COMMENT How retailers can make use of the Apple iRing

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What would an Apple iRing mean for retailers? For, having successfully updated its Apple Watch, the tech giant went on to apply for a patent for a “smart ring,” according to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

YouGov estimates that there will be 6.1m wearable device owners in the UK by the end of 2015 and Juniper research predicts that wearable devices will generate $53.2 billion in global retail revenue by 2019. Voted top of the ‘CoolBrands’ list, it’s likely that Apple’s foray into the smart ring market will drive the wearable tech trend.

So what does this growing area of technology mean for retailers and their relationships with customers?

The new consumer companion

Mobile phones are always with us. In fact, in total we spend 23 days a year just on our phones. In comparison, the iRing is even more personal because it will live on the user’s finger and monitor their every action. For example, retailers will be able to identify where a user has been and the interactions they have had, as told by their geo-location data. For consumers, it’s likely that the iRing could replace the smartphone as their closest tech companion and for retailers this means that the iRing offers the chance to gather more intel to inform marketing than ever before. Wearables present the opportunity for retailers get closer to their customers, tipping the scales of personalisation and giving brands the upper hand.

Data to tip the customer relationship scales

The data collected by the iRing will also give retailers a unique understanding of customer behaviour across devices because the iRing is likely to connect to a smartphone and be used to drive payment on the high street in the same way as the Apple Watch. This cross-device insight will be invaluable for retailers in learning how to target consumers based on their context. Since retailers will be able to understand the full path to purchase and offer a cohesive experience they will be able to strengthen the brand/customer relationship.

One challenge for brands at the moment is understanding where the consumer journey joins up, as currently the offline world is a black spot for data. By using data from the iRing though such as location insights, brands can understand intent and second guess where the shopper will go next. For example, if a shopper is next door to a coffee shop, as told by their geo-location data, a brand could offer that person a reward for going inside to purchase a drink, allowing the retailer to bridge online and offline sales channels.

A seamless path to purchase is the journey of the future

Retailers will be able to shorten the path to purchase by linking online and offline with payments through the iRing. A similar example of this would be when luxury designer House of Holland collaborated with Visa at London Fashion Week to let customers buy clothes straight from the catwalk. Using a micro-chipped ring, the designer enabled contactless payments to be made when items from the collection were touched. By doing so, House of Holland successfully shortened the shopping “journey” for the audience, allowing them to engage with the brand on a “like it, want it, get it” basis.

Be careful that ‘always on’ doesn’t turn consumers off

While the iRing will present huge opportunities for advertisers, the personal nature of the ‘always on’ devices also presents challenges. If retailers are to provide real benefits to their customers and gain increased engagement through the iRing then they need to carefully consider how they use the data the devices collect before using it to inform their campaigns.

Advertising needs to be relevant, but retailers must not bombard consumers with too many messages or exploit the personal data they have to make brand communications appear ‘creepy’. They must also refrain from sharing content too regularly and including unsolicited personal information that seem like an invasion of privacy. Brands need to be polite and seek permission first before serving targeted content. With the right data, and through obtaining consent retailers can ensure a relevant and valuable brand experience.

One of the main reasons for consumers switching off is down to irrelevant advertising. The importance of creating targeted and engaging advertising is particularly prevalent at the moment as the IAB recently announced that 15% of consumers have switched on ad blocking software. These technologies are putting the onus on publishers to educate consumers to seek permission to view content and encourage retailers to raise their game in advertising. It’s therefore critical that the iRing is useful to shoppers, allowing them to pay directly or using their location to inform the advertising experiences and special offers that they are served.

Retailers should focus on relevancy, data and also its role in sequential messaging across all devices to make best use of the iRing. These must be priorities to provide a cohesive brand experience. Overall, the principles of advertising don’t change on iRing, but marketers must use the new information they have carefully and effectively to continually build and improve customer relationships.

Rakhee Jogia is director of display at Rakuten Marketing

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