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About seven years ago, I remember the sudden flurry of excitement among agencies and brands alike that heralded the mainstream arrival of the QR code. Surely this new technology would solve all our problems in terms of connecting with individuals on the path to purchase, plus reduce the need to pay the major grocers handsomely for instore marketing?

As smart phone penetration rose, digital-shopper marketing was born. With it, we saw virtual shops, branded applications, mobile commerce and proximity transmitters such as iBeacon – each claiming to revolutionise the shopper’s journey and create a seamless omnichannel experience.

But QR codes rapidly dwindled into an underwhelming weapon, delivering a branded video at best, or a corporate website at worst. So, are we connecting with shoppers effectively? And have we learned from past mistakes?

Here’s what we’re getting right, and wrong:

1. Shopper insights need to drive tech use.

The trouble with the way brands used new technology platforms like QR codes was their failure to speak to a definitive shopper insight. They weren’t solving a genuine customer problem. Did people really want to order a litre of milk while waiting for the bus? Did they feel the instant need to download an app so they could be served a sales message based on their proximity to the frozen pizzas?

2. Customers need to be wooed, not sold.

The second problem was the focus was on the technology, not on the content. If your content has inherent value to your target audience, you reduce your risk of disappointing users and wasting existing and future brand-lovers’ time.

As most brand-love research points out, the shoppers of today are only interested in brands that can offer utility, value or fun. There is no point in investing in Oculus Rift technology if the quality of the experience is neither relevant nor inspirational enough to change the behaviour of your target market.

3. Retailers will set the agenda (and the opportunity) for brands.

Retailers will control how brands can partner with communication flow and associated technology enablers in their own stores. With many iBeacon tests in pilot, it’s clear how a retailer like Woolworths can test and exploit opportunities from category management, creating richer, deeper shopping experiences, to driving value, offers and promotions.

With mobile payments becoming more of a reality, it’s easy to imagine an experience that’s seamless in integrating loyalty rewards with targeted offers through basket IQ. The tech will be barely noticeable. New retail needs to be borderless and beyond channel. Instore, retailers still hold the reins.

4. Instore shopping is learning from e-commerce.

As online shopping became a huge data play, cross-sell, suggested sell, incentives, VIP areas, personalised services, 360-degree views enabling mouse touch-and-zoom and video catwalks all followed, providing a more rounded ‘instant’ experience right there in your home.

Within fashion retail, social is playing a massive role in defining what is hip, trending and, therefore, in demand. We can expect more ‘socially powered’ shopping baskets in the future.

Smart phones are changing the retail landscape. They help us research, compare and purchase products – not just online, but also within stores. Many shoppers are searching for an in-stock item they may have viewed and researched up to 10 times prior to purchase. Retailers need to make sure they can close the deal by shopping through content.

5. Content, not product, drives shopping.

Editorial and magazine-style approaches to shopping have never been more popular within fashion retail. You can see that content is making spontaneous shoppers shop. With so much choice, it’s nice to be guided and inspired to shop, rather than wade through infinite virtual warehouses.

Branded content is rapidly becoming the new darling of the advertising world and I think we can fully expect this trend to follow across other areas within retail.

6. Retailers need to connect, not interrupt.

Brands are now looking for new ways to connect, rather than simply interrupt. Knowing your audience is more important than ever. And while serving relevant and timely content is hardly a new thought, distribution channels continue to multiply and evolve.

Hence, our obsession with tech continues, just as it did with the QR code, as we look to how existing and new platforms can help inspire the modern-day shopper.

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