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When we talk about mobile and retail, we often move fast to features, tactics, and strategies, but unless we back up to see the enormity of the change for shoppers, we might fail to get to retail’s true digital destination. For shoppers, it's become personal and intimate. Let me explain what this means.
I was reminded of my first experience with my smartphones' navigation when I read The Atlantic’s recent interview with Google Maps leader Michael Jones. It changed everything. It was helpful. It was comforting. It was reassuring. It was dynamic. As a result, I will never go back to a paper map again – and you probably won’t either.
Drafting a bit on the thinking of Google Map’s leader provides much fodder.
When maps became personal, says Michael Jones in the interview, they changed profoundly. Now a map is “different for everyone who uses it.” Zoom in, shift focus, ask it to find restaurants or movie theaters. In effect, users build their own map. We talk a lot about personalization in retailing – but this is the context in which we should think about it: A user experience that’s so rich, so helpful, so useful, that it changes everything.
The dialog between people and maps is going to become even more personalized and more intimate in the future. The headline here is that big changes are happening in the way that man and machine communicate, and this is going to create new opportunities for engagement.
At our last Food Foresight meeting, a group of us were talking about how much information augmented reality could deliver about food products. One of our colleagues needs to follow a low-cholesterol diet. He wanted to be able to hold up his phone as he walked down the grocery aisle and have an augmented reality app show him all foods that qualified for his diet. Jones talks about an app that can use your location to point out “interesting things” to you. Can you see something similar working for a shopper in a store? It would be very powerful.
These examples illustrate both how man-machine communications are changing, and how machines are making us smarter. Jones sees the creation of digital maps as having an impact similar to the advent of the encyclopedia or the dictionary; i.e. it represents the creation of a universal reference that anyone can use for their own purposes. Interestingly, Jones asserts that this functionality has already made people smarter by 20 IQ points.
To get to retail’s digital destination, we need to keep in mind that from the shopper’s perspective, mobile isn’t just a tactic or strategy, and an app isn’t just an app. It’s bigger than that. Technology has become personal and intimate. It alters the experience, adds more detail, more appreciation, more practical help. And when it changes everything, like my smartphone navigation did for me, there’s no going back.
What else does retail need to do to be sure we catch this wave?