Commentary

How Social Could Transform Retail

Hanging from a window nearly 100 stories above Dubai, one of Tom Cruise’s electronic gloves loses its grip and the hero of the latest “Mission: Impossible” flick is forced to improvise. At this moment, the viewer is also reminded that technology can only get you so far, at which point it is time for some lifesaving human ingenuity.

Looking ahead to a panel discussion at MediaPost’s Social Media Insider Summit next Wednesday in Key Largo, I’ve decided to go out on a somewhat futuristic ledge here and imagine how social media could dramatically alter the retail experience. Since most of this technology already exists, add in a touch of creativity and this becomes my very own “Mission: Possible.” 

Knowing: “So Nice to See You Again, Ms. Shopalot”
Since many of the ideas below are dependent upon you, the shopper, sharing your social graph with retailers, let’s get the basic enabling technology out of the way. Near Field Communications (NFC) already allow for the instantaneous transfer of credit/debit card data from consumer to retailer, so sharing your social info via NFC shouldn’t be too far away. Now the fun can begin.

Personalizing: “Is that Beyoncé Wearing a Maternity Gown in Your Size?”

Now that the retailer knows who you are, opportunities for personalization abound. Electronic signage reacting to your social preferences could display your favorite celeb wearing an outfit that was on your posted shopping list or simply point to the floor or dressing room where you can find a product selection in the colors you like.

Bargaining: “Would You Like Some Friends With That?”

In the brave new social world, it won’t be the size of your closets that determines access to volume discounts. Instead, it will be the size and collective bargaining ability of your social graph. For example, a “social” wine store could provide their 10% case discount on single purchases because your social network completed the case requirement together that week.

Hearing: “OMG, Best Song Ever”

Sorry Muzak, but the days of one-size-fits-all audio at retail are soon to be over. Social retailers could tune into the preferences of individual shoppers, piping out personalized streams of music built from shared Spotify or Ping playlists. A shopper hearing their favorite jam will be pumped up and in the perfect mood for a heaping dose of retail therapy.

Surprising: “That’s the Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Seen”

Projected touchscreen displays (see Pico Magic) combined with social data could completely transform the retail shopping experience. Entire walls could become interactive, allowing shoppers to sort through vast amounts of virtual inventory that is preselected based on social preferences. Sharing and comparing also would become a snap.

Outsmarting: “Dude, Where’s My Bar?

Social integration into products might just save us from ourselves if we’re so inclined. For example, if you check in at a bar, your car instantly will know to only start the engine after you pass the Breathalyzer on your smartphone. If you don’t pass the test, your phone will track down your nearest and most sober friends.

Rating: “That’s the Way (Uh-Huh Uh-Huh) I Like It… On Facebook”

Reviews of products and services are ubiquitous online, and it is only a matter of time until these move in-store. Now imagine that the products themselves can display reviews in real-time and highlight those from your social graph. Suddenly that banana-flavored craft beer your friends liked is just what the doctor ordered.

Klouting: “Tell You What I’m Gonna Do Just For You…”

Rewarding influential customers with superior service or free/discounted goods is nothing new, but social integration could take those perks to new heights. For example, once a retailer recognizes a customer with a high Klout score (or equivalent), discounts commensurate with their potential influence could be offered with a promise of more after the social sharing occurs.

Gaming: “Shopping is a Game, Isn’t It?”

Once a retailer can respond to your social graph, the opportunities to introduce game mechanics multiply faster than you can say “Batman: Arkham City.” Based on your in-store behavior, instant coupons could be earned or, perhaps more interestingly, virtual points could be aggregated for redemption in Farmville or another Facebook favorite.

Traveling: See You in Key Largo?

Clearly, this little imaginary excursion just scratches the surface when it comes to the true potential of integrating social media into real-world products, which is why I hope you’ll join me down in Key Largo next week along with fellow panelists like John Yi of Facebook and Lars Djuvik of Specific Media/MySpace. It should be a lot more fun than hanging from a window with a broken electronic glove…

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