• American inspiration
  • Big brother is watching you shop!


    Neil Whitehead looks at the effect technology is having on retailing.

    Sophisticated Technology systems. incorporating the likes of EPOS and loyalty schemes are enabling retailers to watch us shop. With Tesco leading the market in building databases, retailers are increasingly able to track shoppers and the details of their shopping patterns.

    The grocer can now record how often you use the internet compared to in-store visits, whether you purchase luxury or value brandings and what products groups you favour. With city express stores popping up everywhere, they can increasingly compare less frequent bulk-buy visits to top-up tips.

    The industry is building itself up through databases and distribution technology. Retailers can track and respond quickly to individuals’ changing details, even predicting behaviour and sending out ideas. With a new baby in the family they send you paint range information, and a friend of mine who recently moved received a luxury bar of chocolate along with a book of vouchers for cleaning products from Tesco.

    Retailers are mastering the fine art of knowing if and when people need things.

    This is making buying and distribution more efficient and improving profit lines through reduced wastage in addition to increased target sales.

    Technology is also moving POS into a new dimension. As has long been the case with seasonal hotel prices, supermarkets are becoming more occupancy focused, concerned with filling their store and maintaining customer flow throughout their quieter hours. In-store broadband capabilities and digital POP and printing, shops are able to offer instant in-store deals that are not available on the internet.

    The use of different price pointers for different people at different times of the day looks set to proliferate. Through the discretion of promotions and special offers, we will see the key commodities down-priced when the store is most likely to attract cost-conscious mothers or pensioners. Such offers will not be available at peak times or when the audience is likely to consist of business professionals more concerned with time than cost.

    The spread and accessibility of information is making everyone better informed. But our informed world with its new efficiencies doesn’t negate people’s desire to touch and see certain products.

    In fact the changes  are bringing about the advent of an interesting breed of shopper.  More price focused than ever, the modern consumer has a different channels available and seek out the best value, albeit by browsing a local market, buying CDs from internet site or bidding on Ebay.

    Ultimately, technology is eroding the grey areas and the need for middle management. Competition is stiff, consumers are demanding more, and retailers need to be on the ball. This is the age where intelligence really matters. The delivery time from grey matter to the tangible is gaining speed. Computer systems have replaced certain manual roles. Talented people are able to control their work without going through others. Workforces are being reduced.

    Designing for this retail market, agencies need to offer a multi-channel approach that creates variety and choice. In addition to design skills, good agencies are selling their experience of being continuously immersed in the market, working across diverse sectors and being in touch with changing consumer trends. Designers are having to provide smarter solutions and deliver them spontaneously and in an original way. The future is in outsourcing and linking with the talent when you need it to keep costs tight and to offer clients the nest and most flexible services.

    June 2005