Welcome to The Era of The Shopping Companion

Apple column FabioShopkick chief product officer Fabio Sisinni examines what Apple’s latest acquisition means for retailers. 

You probably saw the news about Apple acquiring VR-tech company Flyby Media, which indicates that Apple is getting very serious about incorporating more Augmented Reality capabilities into its iOS and mobile devices.

Much of the coverage of the acquisition framed it as a VR-tech acquisition, but the reality is that Flyby’s technology is focused on AR capabilities, combining image recognition and indoor location-mapping to help blend the virtual and real worlds together for users. For Apple, this could open up a number of different possibilities with its iOS user experience. But more importantly, the impact that this iOS integration will have on how retailers engage and interact with their customers in the future could be immense when paired with other existing in-store tech deployments.

The rise of the shopping companion
AR technology as part of the in-store shopping experience is just the latest development in the ongoing evolution of how retailers approach in-store technology. Retailers, such as Target, have started to incorporate BLE and wi-fi-enabled indoor navigation technology into their in-store experience, helping shoppers navigate their aisles, and alleviating much of the stress that comes with in-store shopping, especially at locations that shoppers are unfamiliar with. This, in addition to the use of the latest Big Data analytics, enables retailers to help personalize the in-store shopping experience for their customers.

Now, add-in AR capabilities that allow retailers to associate indoor locations with rich, contextual information that users can interact with while they’re walking into a shopping aisle to be reminded to pick up the associated shopping list items, learn about new products, or get personalized product recommendations and offers.

Suddenly, we have a situation where these in-store innovations can complement a retailer’s offerings across multiple channels, providing their customers with a shopping experience that is catered to their needs and desires, regardless of whether they are shopping from their couch or browsing the aisles the old-fashioned way.

Taken together, these innovations will result in a new generation of retail mobile apps that represent a significant leap forward in delivering contextual, relevant and interactive in-store experiences. At Shopkick, we call this new generation of retailer apps, the shopping companion.

How does this affect retailers?
Where historically, online retailers have been able to get a leg-up on bricks-and-mortar businesses by virtue of the data they can collect and utilize, the shopping companion will allow the bricks-and-mortar retailer to up its game by combining the traceability of a consumer’s behaviour across different channels (email, web, customer care, catalogue, etc.) with a deeper understanding of their actual in-store flow and conversion. In a world where half of offline retail purchases are influenced by online behaviour, the ability to test, learn, and optimize the entire path to purchase is vital to the success of retailers of all shapes and sizes.

But the advantages of the shopping companion don’t just lie in the collection and utilization of customer data. With companies like Apple integrating into its OS AR technologies that help improve indoor navigation and product interaction in a retail setting, the utility of a consumer’s mobile platform is vastly enhanced within the context of in-store and omnichannel retail. Specifically, for the Millennial consumers who are already using their mobile phones as a shopping tool more than previous generations, it is not a stretch to assume that they will be embracing the shopping companion as it starts delivering on its promises.

Naturally, there is always going to be some scepticism when it comes to new technologies such as those enabling the shopping companion. And retailers won’t be able to do it alone – developers and platform owners need to continue working on software solutions which will make consumers want to incorporate the shopping companion into their daily routines. But coming out of 2015, we’re already seeing a number of major retail partners embrace the shopping companion with open arms. As increasingly more businesses and consumers recognize the win-win proposition that it poses for both parties, we’re confident that 2016 will mark the beginning of a new era for the in-store and omnichannel experience as enabled by the shopping companion.

Fabio Sisinni is chief product officer of Shopkick