The awkward dance of digital and retail, and the day QR code marketing changed the music

published on
July 12, 2021

I came up through the design side of shopper marketing. As a creative at heart, I relish attacking a brand's problem in a physical space. Today I get to do that at arm’s length as our team at S/M does all the heavy lifting – and honestly does it better than I ever did. But what has me really excited these days are the new possibilities and tools of retail digital marketing. To understand how to best approach this new land of possibilities, let's look at how the customer experience with digital at retail has evolved.

Retail marketing solutions, meet retail digital marketing.

For years, omnichannel marketing or digital solutions were seen as the holy grail for differentiating a product and getting shoppers to open their wallets at bricks-and-mortar retail. I can hear it now:

“Brands have so much to say, if they could only get their content in front of shoppers, we just know it will prompt a purchase!”

Hmmm… Outside of a few notable exceptions (hello Apple stores), why did so few brands or retailers get it right?

If you are a channel marketer, mass marketing retailer, or a display producer, you understand that traditionally it has been extraordinarily hard to execute digital solutions at scale – at least until recently. (Anyone that implies otherwise hasn’t been in the trenches.) From a tech and infrastructure perspective, there was bad Wi-Fi in stores, and power outlets seldom available where you need them. Not to mention, straight-up hardware failures.

Physically implementing content updates? Damn near impossible. Store employees turning down or turning off the unit due to the audio factor was a common occurrence as well. And don’t get me started on the negative impression of seeing blank screens.

Much of the content was fluff. It didn’t address the consideration drivers that someone experiences while in the “final foot.” Sending me to a sizzle video of how your washing machine’s design was inspired by water isn’t the type of content I need when I’m choosing between models.

Shopper marketing means shopper respect.

Even with the right content, shoppers were reluctant to engage in a digital experience while standing in an aisle. There were issues of cleanliness, privacy, and personal space. What seemed like a no-brainer engagement that we just knew would help sell product, went underutilized – often only to get pulled months after installation.

Then shoppers all got a new toy: the smart phone.

SMS solutions, QR codes, listing URL addresses on displays… they were all thrown into the mix. Brands got smarter about understanding the user journey that happens both offline and online. We used digital research tools (many of which are disappearing due to privacy laws) to better understand the path folks took to decide on the product that is right for them.

So, we got smarter, we tried whatever we could to increase usage, but it was still difficult to serve up the right content at the right time. In addition, engagement rates were still relatively low.

Until now.

Taking retail marketing strategy to the next level.

In the last year, almost all of us have scanned a QR code to order a burger at our local restaurant. Now we do it without thinking about it. The pandemic has fundamentally changed our habits out of necessity, effectively eradicating one of the last barriers to effective omnichannel merchandising at retail. Shoppability research conducted recently at S/M has shown 100% familiarity with and extremely high adoption rates for the newly rediscovered technology.

So, what are we going to do with this new power? Plastering QR codes on every inch of every graphic like wallpaper would neutralize the ability to help folks make their purchase decisions quickly and decisively. Good fundamental research is the key, as the path to purchase and consideration drivers in the final foot are more important than ever.

Let’s respect the shopper's time. Let’s respect their intelligence. Let’s do our jobs right and provide the information they need when they need it. The key is good data and insights that lead to a targeted retail strategy. If you’d like to infuse this type of thinking into your next initiative, we should talk.

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