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The Text Generation

Retailers might be wary about venturing any further into in-store technology. But there are consumers who will increasingly expect it from you.

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As a society, we’re gripped by technology. Walk around the mall – or, worse, drive around your local streets – and count how many people do not have a telephone attached to their ear.

Telephone? How 2005 of me! These devices play music, browse the web, send and receive text messages, take photographs, watch movies, keep appointments, store data and, yes, make a phone call.

So retailers could be excused for having assumed that the same thrall we’re in over technology in our daily lives would carry over to the in-store experience. But they’ve been wrong. Twice!

A decade ago, retailers thought shoppers would be drawn to in-store terminals that provided information and interaction. They weren’t. The “great kiosk revolution” thudded. More recently, retailers thought shoppers would be drawn to in-store screens that provide information and promotion. So far, this “great digital revolution” has disappointed, as well. As Patrick Rodmell of Watt Intl. says in this issue’s Field Report on page 22, we’re not there yet.

But as the technology improves, the possibilities widen. And, as we know, the technology improves about every 45 minutes. Mega-marketer Procter & Gamble is currently placing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on products at a Metro Extra store in Germany so that when a customer pulls a product off the shelf, it triggers a message on a digital screen at eye-level. If the shopper picks up shampoo, the screen automatically recommends an appropriate conditioner or other hair product. And something called “facial recognition” technology can capture an image of the shopper and, by analyzing certain features, target even more specific messaging (e.g., products appropriate for redheads, say, or African-Americans).

But first, the price tag is going to have to come down. “The biggest challenge has always been the cost,” says Chris Lyons, group publisher of VMSD’s sister publications Package Design Magazine and RFID Product News. “The technology is there and the applications are endless. It’s been used successfully for inventory control and security purposes, but the real upside is in the marketing application. The next step will require an investment by both brand marketers and retailers.”

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Lyons believes this will come as the ensuing generations replace baby boomers as the dominant consumer group. “They have different expectations regarding technology,” he notes. “They’re savvy. They know what’s available and possible. They expect it and, increasingly, they’ll demand it.”

Yes, those same kids who’ve turned “text” into a verb will be the ones pulling retail technology into the 21st Century.

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