In a world where the Jetsons' fallacies have become a marketer's reality, advanced technologies are providing retailers across the globe with real-world data and solutions that will revolutionize and modernize the lives of consumers. Through virtual reality, facial recognition and beacon technologies, brands now have the opportunity to understand more about their consumers than ever before.

Everyone today is connected to each other and the world at large. Through a network of digital technologies that have profoundly changed the way we act and interact, it’s not just personal communications that have transformed. Businesses across the globe are investigating and implementing innovations that harness the strength inherent in the digital age. Cultural shifts toward digital and online lifestyles provide rich opportunities for retail marketing to create deeper connections with consumers both online and off.

Modern society has coated the world in a layer of digital information that has the power and potential to enhance the human experience. Because of digital technology, transparent and actionable data has never been so readily available and accessible. As a result, businesses are arming themselves with technologies of the future, empowering consumer like never before. So pervasive is this technology, each year’s advances are so potent that they create more avenues to the customer than the rest of human history combined.

Being able to meaningfully reach as many groups of people as possible has always been marketing’s calling. However, being in more channels for the sake of being in more channels is a waste time if brands don’t have a clear purpose and value. Utilizing all available resources to truly understand who these groups are, and what common behaviors they express is imperative in today’s marketing game where success hinges on the ability to be adaptable and forward-thinking. Since there’s no rulebook or blueprint for navigating this new space, how can businesses adapt and deploy these new technologies to gain a competitive edge?

What You See Is What You Get

Spawned in the mid-1990s from the overzealous imaginations of gaming industry executives, virtual reality (VR) technology is beginning to move from the basements of hardcore gamers into retail spaces. Stanford University Labs has studied the effects of virtual reality on adults and children finding that a week after having a VR session, over half of the respondents believed they had actually experienced the virtual events. These kinds of effects have powerful implications for businesses and consumers, alike. In fact, a Greenlight VR study determined that out of 1,300 surveyed individuals, 71% feel that brands that employ virtual reality systems are more innovative than brands that don’t.  Further, 53% of respondents were more likely to buy from a company employing VR.

71% [of individuals] feel that brands that employ virtual reality systems are more innovative than brands that don’t.

Unfortunately until late 2014, the growth of mainstream consumer VR products was in large part stifled because of the hefty price tags of most VR headsets. Industry leaders like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR were at the forefront of virtual headset technology, but all of these units easily surpass the $400 mark. Fortunately, a recent surge of VR developments have led many industries to begin experimenting with VR systems for themselves. In November 2014, Google changed the VR world for good by offering a product that allowed VR technology to be accessible to anyone.

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Google’s idea was simple enough. The aptly named Google Cardboard VR box allows you to mount a smartphone to your face in a manner that makes virtual reality achievable. Volvo was one of the first companies to realize Cardboard’s potential and decided to partner with Google in hopes of creating a low cost but highly immersive experience. Volvo’s goal was to capture the feeling of driving their new Volvo, but without the actual Volvo. By taking this approach, Volvo could introduce large audiences to their latest product while also captivating the imaginations of those who experienced it. As a result, many other companies are following suit.

At this point, Google Cardboard represents an important development in the world of VR, not because it’s radical or revolutionary, but really because it’s cheap and simple. The near zero dollar price tag allows for curiosity, further development and imagination to take hold in the consumer marketplace and consequently, in the retail marketplace, as well. Google Cardboard’s role in the VR development pipeline is acting as an accelerant: gasoline to the virtual reality bonfire, which is set to burn down conventional beliefs about entertainment, information consumption, and the way we interact with the world.

Face Time

Twentieth century Sci-Fi novels like Fahrenheit 451 and The Minority Report correctly predicted a world hyperconnected through pocket-sized devices and big data software programs. Those technologies exist today, whether we know it or not, and many consumers are oblivious to the technology surrounding them. For example, most shoppers are unaware that various retail stores are using a computer program to scan their face and cross-reference the image against a database of known shoplifters or that businesses are using robots to track eye movement and body language. What’s more, our phones will soon be able to read our facial expressions. What once seemed fictional has now become fact. Facial recognition technology is here, and it’s happening in stores across the globe.

The earliest applications of facial recognition software have been used mainly for security purposes in retail settings or in streetscapes to monitor unlawful behavior. However, software companies are beginning to shop this technology across a spectrum of new markets with one of the largest markets being retail environments. Businesses can now use facial recognition technology to analyze shopper behavior, create interactive experiences, improve the customer journey, as well as better understand buyer patterns and habits. In fact, Research gathered in UK industries suggests that up to 30% of retail stores are actively experimenting with facial recognition software as a new source of consumer data and information.

30% of retail stores are actively experimenting with facial recognition software as a new source of consumer data and information.

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In terms of business growth, marketsandmarkets.com  is forecasting that the facial recognition industry will balloon to a staggering $6.19 billion valuation by 2020. With uncharted potential, many Fortune 500 companies are now getting in on the action. In March of this year, Amazon filed a patent application for facial recognition technology that would allow the company’s users to pay for products by simply taking a selfie. While also decreasing security risks, Amazon hopes that using these new systems will help to reduce the hassle of inputting personal information over and over and trying to remember passwords. For Amazon, implementing facial recognition would mean quicker access to products, more seamless check-out and payment, and happier customers.

While facial recognition has many advocates on the security and retail side, privacy advocates are not so keen on a future where technology is tracking and scanning our every move. Privacy concerns include the technology’s invasive nature, with critics advocating a slow approach to deployment until our privacy laws catch up. Even a fan of facial recognition can understand the discomfort that comes from companies using personal information without anyone’s knowledge. As a society, we are becoming more aware of the capabilities of technology and the importance of establishing regulations and best practices that enhance technology while protecting privacy. However, as facial recognition programs begin to reach their full potential, people will start to appreciate the luxuries they can afford.

Modern Day Morse Code

The smart world we’re building is increasingly mirroring the Jetsons’ future world day-by-day, and it’s all because of the internet of things. Your next refrigerator may know more about your diet than your doctor. Your next car may know more about where you live than a local Uber driver. Your next house may know more about your daily schedule than your spouse.  The digitization of our world is getting deployed across all industries, including manufacturing and shipping, making them adaptable, responsive and efficient. So global is digital’s reach that by 2020 there will be 50 billion objects connected to the internet. A world blanketed with billions of sensors allows technology to transform the environment around us, but the internet can’t do it all by itself. Beacon technology is the link that connects the internet of things to a community of people.

Before beacons, businesses were utilizing GPS and geo-fencing technology in cell phones to determine the exact locations of potential customers in real time. The omnipotent nature of our mobile devices has created an exploding network of touch points, accessible to retailers across the globe. Knowing precisely where people are relative to a store location allows marketers to deliver targeted, highly specific and time-sensitive offerings designed to help drive foot traffic into stores. Similar to geo-fencing, beacons use low frequency Bluetooth signals to broadcast specific messages to smart devices within a limited area. The difference being that beacons are proactive where GPS and other NFC technologies are reactive.

The difference being that beacons are proactive where GPS and other NFC technologies are reactive.

Beacon technology has the ability to add another layer of interactivity into a robust retail experience. Businesses are using beacons to drive traffic by coaxing potential customers into their stores by offering deals and promotions. Further, these beacon technologies enable retailers to tailor shopping experiences to the individual based on their loyalty history, rewards programs and cross-pollinate these deals with other existing information like consumer buying habits. And deployment of beacon technology is not solely limited to large corporate retailers either. According to statista.com, 71% of all U.S. retailers are able to track and understand customers’ buying patterns, tastes and responses using beacons.

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After installing Apple’s beacon system iBeacon in 28 of 30 stadiums in 2014, Major League Baseball has more than doubled its number of mobile app users via their At the Ballpark mobile app. After entering the stadium, fans gain access to special offers and content like merchandise coupons and seat upgrades. Fans can also view park maps, concessions info, and in-game replays all from their own devices. In return, MLB owners and marketing teams receive actionable information on attendance and guest flow, as well as data on high traffic areas and access points within the stadium, all of which can be used to create a more enjoyable fan experience.

Personalized and Personified

Technology is rapidly becoming a specialized and tailored commodity. By itself, the flashiness and flair of new gadgets and technologies are no longer enough to impress the casual buyer or user. Now, flashy tech only works if it makes people’s lives easier, delivers innovation and feels customized and curated to our individual worlds. Successful companies understand that in the era of the internet of things, they will win by combining their understanding of consumer needs with the benefits, values and meaning that effective digital technology can deliver.

Technology, by itself, is not the answer to a problem. Businesses must be willing to reorient their processes around the consumer not the technology, even if it means taking a step backwards. The future of retail is going to be about omnipresent experiences that consumers value. Retailers must stop looking at their digital touch points as high-tech substitutes to their brick-and-mortar locations and start understanding how the two relate and exist together. Advanced technologies coupled with the internet of things has given the branding world the ability to speak. Let’s speak back.

So where do you see advanced technology growing? Use #speakback to discuss what experiences you’d like brands to be curating with the use of advanced technology.

Co-authored by Ryan Barrick, Marketing & Strategy Intern.