Smarter Shopping

There are now two undeniable trends in marketing that we as marketers cannot ignore: the superfast adoption of mobile technology and growing “ad blindness.”

According to the analyst, Chetan Sharma, more people now have access to mobile phones than to electricity or safe drinking water. And according to an Adweek Media/Harris Poll from 2010, 91 per cent of us ignore ads and are especially good at ignoring online ads. Quite simply, consumers do not believe they are relevant.

Most good mobile apps strive to address the issue of relevance, yet only partially succeed because most address only a discrete element of the consumer shopping experience. Relevance is a function of understanding the context of shopper decision making. There are a host of solutions that attempt to provide consumers with offers based on one single dimension – location. 

However, location is only part of the context puzzle. Some companies – Foursquare springs to mind – have partnered with American Express, so that implementation and clearance of their location-based deals becomes much easier, both for consumers and retailers. But because these companies do not have access to American Express’ members purchase data, they lack a broader consumer context to make it more relevant. 

Barcode scanners, Near Field Communications (NFC), and mobile payment systems give other dimensions to the context of decision making: what people are searching for, where they are shopping, and how much they are spending with certain retailers. A common theme across these point solutions is that the output of each does not become part of the corpus of a consumer’s purchase history and preferences in a way that is meaningful to consumers, brands, retailers and service providers.

Sure, these new approaches give companies insight, which would be impossible to get without smartphone technology. However, today’s consumer expects brands to act not on insights but on foresights. 
A new shopping data puzzle
Imagine that instead of a series of disconnected apps and solutions, all consumers’ purchase interactions are captured: all retail purchases, made via cash, credit or NFC, are captured at the product level, with prices and across all retail channels. Then overlay time, location, accepted offers, product searches and pricing.

Add in expressed media preferences from social networks, and the result is a rich data profile – a context which is vastly more comprehensive than what can be bought from market research firms or from what is captured in single retailer loyalty schemes. 

Such a data set allows us not only to understand, but also to anticipate consumer behaviour, in order to deliver engagements so relevant they become desired.
While seemingly futuristic, connecting the data from these various experiences is possible. It does, however, involve total disruption of traditional models of data collection. 

For such a system to work, the key is consumers ownership of their data. Empowering consumers to become aggregators and owners of their shopping data puts them in a position to assemble a complete data profile, avoiding the selective snapshots of consumer behaviour that typify most current marketing solutions. Consumers could then exercise their right to opt-in or not to receive marketing messages, offers, and product suggestions. 

For brands, retailers and service providers, such a data profile provides the opportunity for unparalleled precision of targeting; one where promotional spend inefficiency can be dramatically decreased. In short, brands, retailers and services can become seamlessly embedded in the life of consumers, while reducing overall promotional spending and wastage.

A new type of platform
While the significant benefits of a holistic shopping data profile are clear, making this possible calls for new mobile platforms that are capable of capturing, organizing, analysing and brokering this data on behalf of consumers.  

Capturing the data requires a tool that interacts with the plethora of innovative mobile and web applications and allows for the capture of discrete portions of the consumer shopping journey. It also means improved portability of existing consumer data trapped in retailer or service provider loyalty program databases.  
Organizing this information requires improved product comparability across retail channels. This will improve gradually over time as consumers have access to electronic point-of-sale data, and as products are identified using UPC codes. 

Finally, to effectively enable brands, retailers and service providers to engage with consumers, the platform must enable access to anonymised data profiles. Based on analysis of such data profiles, brands, retailers and service providers can assess the optimal matches for their offers and marketing messages.   

And because consumers would own and be in control of their data asset, the platform empowers them to elect whether and how to share this information.
Consumers are the ones who generate data. It is smartphones that can make gathering and processing their data possible.

Dr. Alexey Andriyanenko is co-founder of Shopitize