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Lately I have been reading about connected homes and connected cars. Whilst I am (very) excited at the prospect of experiencing both in the not-so-distant future, it left me wondering about what connected stores might look like also a few years from now.

3 players stick out for me when it comes to transforming the in-store experience through the integration of information and communications technologies.

All 3 are working hard to merge the bricks-and-mortar and virtual shopping experiences into one effortless, consistent and personalised experience. This they achieve not only through a selective use of technologies (mobile or other), but also by observing their customers’ shopping behaviours and adapting the in-store experience accordingly.

According to Burberry –

For Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of the British luxury fashion brand, the shop of the future integrates behaviours that are inherent to the online shopping experience into the in-store experience.

And so in the same way as customers shop online from the comfort of their sofa at home, customers in its London flagship store are shown to a sofa at point of purchase, where they are presented with a swipe machine that swiftly computes their purchase.

Christopher Bailey commenting on the launch of the new store design in 2012 explained: “We designed it like that because when you’re shopping at home online, you are on the sofa with your credit card. You don’t stand up and queue.”

Other examples of the “digitalization” of Burberry’s largest store include embedding clothes with RFID-enabled chips that can be read by the fitting rooms mirrors, triggering images and videos of the selected garment in catwalk shows or how it was made. Kitting out the store with high-speed lifts to fast track the time it takes for staff to check an item’s availability is one other (this check is instant online).

According to Starbucks –

For Howard Schultz, the CEO of the coffee house chain, the store of the future will enable a one-to-one relationship between the brand and its customers through the personalization of the service they receive as they walk into the store.

As he explained in a recent interview with USA Today, customers with a history of in-store mobile payments made through the Starbucks app could in future be presented with their usual favorite drink as they are geo-located and id’ed the moment they step through the door – without having to order.

According to GAP –

For the high-street fashion retailer, the store of the future reconciles the rise of the omni-channel shopper with the company’s ability to connect demand (web, mobile or offline) to supply (wherever it might be also) through its backend systems. This has led the retailer to start trialing the find in-store and reserve-in store features on its shopping app.

The app geo-locates you and flags the nearest stores. By connecting to the store inventories in real-time, it shows you the inventory level for a given item and ultimately gives you the ability to find and buy the item you pre-shopped online in a store of your choice.

As you go online to shop with GAP, you spot an item you like, you locate it in a store near by and simply reserve it. The item is held for you until the next business day for you to try in store, build a transaction and possibly a whole outfit around it. Unlike pick-up in-store, it encourages customers to stick around as they try things on and build a connection with the staff and brand.

In both scenarios, the shopping experience starts online and leads to an offline transaction.

No doubt there are more examples in the same vein (feel free to share those you find inspiring!). Burberry and Starbucks however are ones to watch: they have famously (and successfully) broken new grounds when it comes to integrating digital media and platforms into their marketing efforts. And they are constantly looking for new ways to market their products and optimise the customer experience.

With this in mind, any one who ever thought the bricks-and-mortar shops would soon be a thing of the past may want to have a rethink. A converted online shopper myself, I could even be tempted to go back in-store.

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A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

I have just come across 2 recent studies on how social commerce is trending and impacting on sales in the US & Europe (the most insightful of which I am sharing with you here).

2 of their key findings which stuck out for me are:

#1 – 90% of the conversations about brands are still happening offline vs a meagre 10% online (source: InTV how to harness the power of conversations).

In other words, offline WOM still prevails by far and this behaviour is unlikely to change anytime soon with face-to-face chats with spouses, relatives and friends remaining the #1 influencers on purchase decisions, not the social banter.

And –

#2 – Social media very seldomly directly leads to an online sale (ref. low conversion rates/direct referrals).

This is not to say however that social media hasn’t got a role to play – it may well trigger a conversation in the offline world with your loved and trusted ones, ultimately leading to a sale. So still worth investing into in order to influence/guide those offline conversations.

The problem for advertisers then becomes how to measure the true impact/ROI of social conversations on their sales – if at all possible. Any ideas, anyone?

Brilliant ad! It makes online shopping so much more interesting – and this is also very true : the best online shopping experience I have ever had with a supermarket was in the UK (not with Tesco but Sainsbury’s, its competitor). Their personal shoppers DO pick the freshest fruits and vegs for you, which was the biggest barrier for me as a consumer to shop for fresh produce online. After trying online shopping with them i never put a foot back in their store. Which makes me wonder…. Could this the beginning of the end for bricks-and-mortar supermarkets?

More on this ad here.

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