GUEST OPINION 4G set to bring home more than just the Bacon?
In a bizarre play on the game “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”, major UK networks are pushing the idea of high speed 4G connection (geddit? – we are all connected to Kevin Bacon. Genius.). But aside from the promise of ‘everything, faster’, what does it mean for retailers? Phil Freegard, Senior Principal, Next Generation Commerce Practice, Infosys Consulting thinks that there is much for merchants to be footloose and fancy free about
Anyone living in the UK over the past year cannot have missed the fact that 4G – the latest mobile phone network technology that will deliver broadband-like speeds – has arrived. Well in selected places. Through a seemingly endless array of TV and billboard advertisements (and the timely resurrection of Kevin Bacon’s career) the major UK telcos are selling 4G as hard as they can, despite the fact that currently you can only really get coverage in the major cities. Over the next few years however, it is certain that 4G will be deployed more widely across the UK, bringing faster speeds than ever – more than 60mbps in some cases. This means that 4G enabled smartphones and tablets will run apps and web services at blistering pace, allowing data-rich content, such as videos and animations, to be downloaded in the blink of an eye.
This is an important development in the wider story of the connected customer. High speed broadband and Wi-Fi networks have been transforming the online retailer experience for many years now and 4G promises to open a new chapter in this story. The mobile phone is become an increasingly important sales and marketing channel for retailers as more and more consumers turn to their smartphones when shopping. Indeed, according to one study, mobile is now the primary shopping channel for 14 per cent of Britons, according to Rakuten’s recent survey. If 4G is widely accepted by consumers it means that retailers will be able to do more with this important channel. Customers will be able to download more content much more rapidly through the retailer’s portal.
From the customer’s point of view, this will mean a better user experience and a much richer one. A customer accessing a fashion retailer’s mobile site, for example, will be able to flick through high-res images of the retailer’s catalogue with no jitter or delay. They could even download HD quality video of models demoing the clothes, or mix and match various items on a virtual mannequin. All of this will be delivered so smoothly and rapidly that the frustrations we can currently experience on slower networks will simply not be present. The easier the experience the more likely it will result in a sale.
Innovations such as this will allow retailers to target consumers at new periods of the day. ‘Snacking’, whereby consumers surf the web in small chunks, is how mobiles are most commonly used in the retail space. 4G will drive this trend by allowing consumers to download even more engaging pieces of content in a shorter time, making it more rewarding. In fact, I would argue that as users start to grow accustomed to a better mobile experience it may start to rival the already well-established channel of home shopping over Wi-Fi or fixed networks.
From a technology perspective, this means that all application development should be truly multichannel and optimised for the powerful features 4G enables. This means that content management tools will need to be upgraded and applications developed that are optimised for the 4G experience. Ultimately, 4G will deliver on its promises only if the right applications are created for it, ones that can deliver rich content with ease.
The ability of retailers to give consumers better content means that they can connect with them through more compelling brand communications. A great example of this is the recently launched Guinness Plus app that rewards users when they check-in to pubs. The real ‘wow’ factor of the app is its social map which allows people to see how many other users of the app are in various pubs in their vicinity. With the download and connection speeds made possible with 4G, brands can engage more effectively with customers in this kind of real time social interaction.
Indeed, retailers of any kind will be able to target their customers with a much wider variety of promotions including video, games and animations – all ‘sticky’ content that will help build stronger brand relationships and lead to the customer spending more time on the retailer’s mobile site. To take one example, Asda has launched an award-winning app designed specifically to cater to how people shop when using mobile devices. The result is a tool that not only draws the highest user ratings in the supermarket but also drives increased purchasing. As its features are based on user feedback, they tend to be practical, helpful and easy-to-use, as well as well suited to its main target demographic – mums. The app means that in practice Asda is wherever the customer is – they can shop on the go and with complete convenience but only if the mobile infrastructure is powerful enough to support the service. With 4G it is.
Retailers stand to win in other ways. The more compelling mobile services that stores can get 4G users engaged with, the more data they will be able to gather on their customers. A recent Infosys survey revealed that 61 per cent of UK consumers are comfortable sharing personal information such as such as their postcode, phone number, or email with retailers when making a payment through a mobile device. This shows that there is an appetite for sharing data with retailers when the consumer feels they are getting something in return. 4G will be a great enabler for this, allowing retailers to trade content for data. This in turn will allow them to create marketing campaigns that are tailored to the individual user and therefore much more likely to resonate with them.
Drawing customers in with compelling content, then using analytics to understand them and better monetise the relationships – this is an idea that is picked up in Nick Lovell’s latest book The Curve. In it he postulates that much in the retail world is losing its value, and that businesses must react to this by embracing free content. This content is used as a vehicle to gain a better understanding the customer base and identifying the super-fans who will go on to spend good money on better targeted propositions.
Lovell’s solution to the challenge of the loss of value for good is: "…to flip your thinking. To focus not on finding the biggest possible audience but to seek out the super-fans who love what you do. To use the cheap distribution of the internet to start the process of connecting with fans — and then craft products, services and artistic creations for which they will pay lots of money…. The 21st century will be about relationships, about variable pricing, and about the ending of the tyranny of the physical."
4G promises to be one of the key technologies that will enable this new form of retail. It allows for the rapid transfer of content over owned mobile channels and social media, connecting consumers to retailers in a way not seen before and encouraging brand advocacy and the rise of the super-fan. Perfecting this and other forms of mobile retail execution will therefore be one of the most important things retailers can do.