TechWorld

Big move for retail as NZ tech firm shines in Big Apple

As the passing foot traffic scuttled through Midtown Manhattan, where an estimated 1.6 million pass through each day, nestled in the heart of Times Square a Kiwi retail revolution was taking place.

As the passing foot traffic scuttled through Midtown Manhattan, where an estimated 1.6 million pass through each day, nestled in the heart of Times Square a Kiwi retail revolution was taking place.

Taking the stage at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York, VMob CEO Scott Bradley spoke of a blurring of the lines between the physical and digital worlds of retail, banishing the popular belief that online now rules the shopping roost.

Despite tough economic conditions, news coming out of the Big Apple earlier this year showed that revenue for the world’s 250 largest retailers reached $4.3 trillion in the last fiscal year, “and only 5% of this can be attributed to online sales.”

Addressing the American audience as he continues VMob’s expansion in the country, with its New York office set to open before Christmas, Bradley acknowledged that while “retail is tough”, there remains a “great opportunity” for retailers to take advantage of smarter mobile marketing.

“We’ve focused on the 95% of sales which arise from customers walking through the front door, engaging with the retail teams, buying the products and walking out again,” said Bradley, speaking alongside Natasha Hritzuk, Global Consumer Insights Director, Microsoft Advertising.

“Everybody wants to be innovative but without the risks associated with new emerging technologies coming into the market.

“We excel in helping organisations that have a physical presence use mobile to better engage with their customers.”

As straight talker from New Zealand, Bradley, who has shaped his career around uncovering and amplifying customer-focused engagement solutions for some of the world’s biggest brands during his 25 years in the technology, understands the game he operates within.

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“The truth is customers don’t care how they engage with the brand,” he explained, “they don’t care about the touch points, they just want want they want.

“So unless we think about the consumer as being the centre of this technical engagement, the art of bolting this all together becomes very confusing very quickly.”

With clients ranging from quick service restaurants, banking, telecommunications, retail to FMCG brands and directory services, VMob is listed on the NZ stock exchange with offices in London, Singapore, Sydney and Auckland and now New York, to support its global operations.

Combing in-store beacon data, geo-location, social profiling and historic behaviour to understand customers in real-time, Bradley explained how VMob delivers offers “that will win them over”, while the technology measures the return on investment by tracking how they draw customers from the online world into bricks-and-mortar stores.

Echoing Bradley’s comment, and the work of VMob, Hritzuk reenforced the belief that despite the world evolving digitally, physical retail matters more than ever.

“Following in-depth Microsoft research we understand the concrete reasons why customers still prefer physical shopping experiences,” Hritzuk added. “People like social, emotionally enriching and rewarding experiences which don’t happen organically online.

In the eyes of Hritzuk, Microsoft, Bradley and VMob, the retail revolution is well underway, but it’s not a technology-led transformation; “consumers are leading the charge.”

“We’re constantly reminding the engineers and the technologists within our company that despite what everybody thinks, people are often ahead of technologists,” explained Hritzuk, offering insight into the mindset of consumer purchase processes.

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“There’s almost a certain arrogance within the tech sector that we know best and if you build it they will come.

“But the more research we do, which focuses at the intersection of consumers and technology, shows that in many instances consumers needs are outstripping the technology and this is very manifest in the retail space which we’re aware of.”

With VMob as the real-time reference point, a company which runs on the Microsoft Azure platform, Hritzuk explained that through providing mobile-centric campaign management software, retailers are best placed to deliver promotions and loyalty programmes that work.

“Physical and digital aspects should operate in sync,” she added, “the key trend we have seen is that both worlds should be talking to each other more.

“Customers know retailers track data, they know they have it yet they are not providing a more personalised experience, there is certainly a deeper need for personalisation within physical retail stores.”

Taking the discussion deeper, Bradley explained how service providers such as banks, telecommunications operators and directory services use the VMob platform to “retain and monetise” their existing customers by offering merchant partners a mobile channel to deliver highly-targeted promotions and rewards to their mutual customers.

“Our technology measures the return on investment of digital marketing campaigns,” he explained, “by tracking how they draw customers from the online world into bricks-and-mortar stores.”

Claiming that the onus is now on marketers to “bridge the gap” between what consumers need and want, and how this can be delivered from a technological perspective, Hritzuk argued that despite the prediction of impending doom of offline stores, research suggests otherwise - hence a need for retailers to embrace mobile.

“Consumers hate the friction between the digital and physical worlds,” she added. “And why do they hate this friction? Because for consumers there is no digital world or no physical world.

“There’s ‘My World’ where I’m trying to get things done and make decisions. I’m not thinking because I’m on my smartphone I’m operating in my digital world, or because I’m in a shop I’m in my physical world, it simply doesn’t happen.”

So much so that digital and physical are “not two separate entities” according to Hritzuk, and the misplaced assumption of this can “immediately create barriers” as a consequence.

Forrester Research findings recently predicted that by 2017, 60 percent of all retail transactions in the United States “will involve the internet in some way”, but with a key emphasis on “some way” - that’s where mobile, championed by Kiwi innovation, is taking on the world.