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The future of Shopper insight?


You may not know the name, but is China’s second largest e-commerce company and they’ve just made a play in their Beijing and Shanghai stores that could offer us a glimpse into the future of Shopper insight.

In fact, this is one of the biggest steps yet taken by any retailer (other than Amazon) towards realising the dream of managing brick and mortar stores with the same precision data that guides e-commerce strategy.’s proprietary Take technology uses sensors to track shoppers in-store and compile data about their shopping behaviours - from product selection to in-store journeys.

It also brings personalised content to the shopping experience, triggering digital video displaying product features and benefits when a customer picks up an item, in much the same way that Burberry implemented RFID in their flagship London store.



The real play here, though, is surely data and the ability to optimise the retail experience and merchandising of products in the way that e-commerce retailers take for granted. Companies like Amazon, Alibaba and have been shaking their heads in disbelief at how little the high street knows about its customers’ behaviours in-store. How do you know where to place a product? What call-to-action will drive purchase? What further items will a shopper add to their basket?

While the traditional high street operators have their heads in the sand, the e-commerce generation clearly now feel it’s time to move in on the physical space and do things better.

Zhang Bing, head of retail innovation at JD Electronics, told The Drum: “With ‘Take’ and other advanced technologies, we’ll be able to better understand what our customers want when they shop offline. We can then deliver that to them in store with the same precision they’re used to when they shop online.”

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s a wonder so many commentators were shaking their heads and puzzling why Amazon would move in on the high street when the e-commerce Goliath was launching Go and acquiring Whole Foods. The answer is simple, if an opportunity is being under-exploited in the market, there is money to be made.

Shopper Strategists and Researchers should consider what all this means for the traditional insight tools driving the thinking behind their campaigns. As marketing science's view of behaviour as neurological - driven by impulses it’s hard for the rational brain to acknowledge and predict - becomes the prevailing orthodoxy, how can the findings of focus groups and observational research compete with live data?

In research people frequently say what they think we want to hear, or present themselves how they wish to be perceived. Certainly, they’re often at pains to avoid being seen to be as ‘weird’ as we all secretly know we are. Frequently, when we depend on focus groups and other such research tools we may have cause to question our data. The same can’t be said of directly observed shopping activity.

At the product level, brands can get in on this party too. Connected products offer a way to uncover deep insights not just about purchase behaviours but also about the consumer experience - the frequency with which a product is used in the home, seasonal cycles and occasions that drive use. 



Working with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, RPM piloted a connected bottle that allowed shoppers to tap their phone in-store and interact with the product. Purchasers were then able to download an associated app that incentivised interaction with the bottle and gathered rich insights into consumption habits and occasions.

As sensor technology becomes very feasible due to declining costs and mass market IoT interfaces rollout across our devices this seemingly futuristic environment will be upon us with surprising speed. Wouldn’t it be dreary if Amazon was the only one to benefit?