For the retail sector, the Covid-19 crisis has had a widespread impact. With non-essential physical shops shut having only just reopened, revenues have suffered, and customer loyalty has been shaken. In many ways, it has accelerated a process that was already in motion before the crisis – one that pushes brands to re-evaluate their relationship with consumers. What’s more, it’s forcing everyone to assess how technology can help them to understand, communicate with and reward their consumers in smarter and more effective ways.
A recent survey by analyst Mckinsey revealed that over 40% of consumers surveyed said that they had adopted new retail habits during lockdown, such as increased online purchasing, and they intend to continue once the restrictions lift. And figures released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) at the start of 2021 showed that retail sales in 2020 were the ’worst for 25 years’ as non-food sales fell about 5%, compared with those in 2019.
However, just because the way that we shop and buy goods may have changed, perhaps for the long-term, it doesn’t mean that every brand will suffer. Customer relationships are arguably there for the taking, if their motives and drivers are understood and acted upon on in the right way. And this is where the data comes in.
The data ownership shift
The challenge for brands now is to collect and use insights about their customer base to develop their own stronger relationships directly with consumers. This new phase will see brands shifting to a process where they own data themselves, rather than paying companies like Amazon for the rights to that data. As a result, we will undoubtedly see more brands turning to emerging and increasingly innovative technology to capture this information and use it to build and improve their customer interactions.
By gaining a deeper understanding of each of their customers and getting one-to-one insights, brands will be able to develop more effective marketing strategies, develop new products and improve their business processes. And now, as retail business are preparing for a possible surge in spending as people see restrictions lifting, this is a smart moment to investigate a new approach - linking the physical to the digital world. Just because physical shops are opening again doesn’t necessarily mean that digital sales will reduce, so a hybrid and flexible approach will be vital for retailers as we move forward.
So, which novel technologies could boost brand engagement and help to further this next chapter in customer relations?
There are several technologies offering interesting opportunities for brands to forge and strengthen relationships with consumers. For example, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), which is a process using electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects, NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows connections and communication between electronic devices at short range – and even flexible electronics. An RFID inlay (or tag) can be added under labels or inside packaging, with an integrated circuit (IC) containing a unique identifier (UID).
With a simple tap of an NFC enabled smartphone a consumer could access bespoke product information, promotions, competitions, reordering options, and even local recycling advice – before, during and after purchase. Due to the ultra-thin, flexible circuit technology used in these tags, they can be embedded in the same packaging that customers recognise, without affecting the brand identity. It will be these personalised and interactive experiences that will help brands to reignite relationships with customers.
For brands, the benefits are two-fold. Not only can this approach enable them to capture and collect more customer data, but it also means that once they have these insights, the promotions and information they embed in the tags can be tailored directly to the needs and preferences of the people they are targeting.
Making RFID more accessible
RFID is not new. This technology has been used in the apparel sector for many years for stock control of relatively high value items. However, due to the high costs associated with the traditional silicon-based integrated circuits used in the manufacturing process, this has not become widespread in high volume products, such as FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods), before now.
PragmatIC’s flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) introduce intelligence and interactivity into everyday items, as these are the ultra-low cost option for brands. New technologies like this could be a real game-changer and help brands to find their own new path, as all of us negotiate a future beyond COVID.
Gillian Ewers, VP Marketing at PragmatIC