This article on customer data was originally published on CMO.com.

Which retail technologies will pay off in 2016? Will beacons take off? How about wearables? And what about in-store analytics—will that really matter?

Here are five key trends that you must watch out for in 2016 and beyond:

1. Advertising Won’t Be Enough

Consider this:

  • 70% of shoppers are now becoming aware of products through means outside of brand/retailer advertising (Deloitte).
  • There are 198 million global active users of ad blocking software, up 41% from 12 months ago (PageFair/Adobe).

It’s becoming an increasing challenge for the majority of retail executives I talk to daily to capture consumer attention. With the touch of a button, consumers can skip TV ads. And even digital advertising—our new ray of hope—is under fire thanks to ad blocking and an exceptional consumer talent for ignoring ad placements. Moving forward, it will become more and more critical for you to reach consumers in the moment—whether they’re on social media, doing some smart phone research at a stoplight, or browsing at a store.

And without question, stores will take on a more important role than ever in influencing these consumers, given their hold on more than 90% of all retail sales, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There’s no denying that physical stores need a digital presence, but what about the other way around?

2. Technology Will Transform The Role Of The Store

We touched on this briefly above, but let’s talk more about this changing role of the store:

  • Digital interactions will impact 64 cents of every dollar of in-store sales by the end of 2015 (Deloitte).
  • Shoppers who use digital while they shop in store convert at a 20% higher rate compared to those who do not use digital as part of the shopping process (Deloitte).
  • Only 12% of shoppers cited the sales associate as an important factor in their purchase decisions (InReality).

So far we’ve seen online pure-plays like Amazon, Bonobos, Warby Parker, Rent the Runway, and Birchbox move in store—all with huge success. On the other hand, we’ve seen big names like Sears, Barnes & Noble, GameStop, Staples, and Ann Taylor forced to undertake major store closings. Why is that? These successful pure-plays didn’t just open another store with traditional sales and distribution models as their primary goal. Instead, they tapped into the unique needs of their customers and re-engineered the function of the store to fill the gaps in their existing experience that could not be achieved online. And often they used the store as a marketing tool to build awareness, generate buzz, and act as a multiplier for all other channels.

3. Content Marketing Will Finally Become A Reality In Store

Over the past couple years, we’ve witnessed a rise in the use of online content marketing campaigns:

And for good reason:

  • 75% of marketers surveyed said they saw positive bottom-line outcomes from their content marketing efforts, such as increased loyalty and reduced marketing and media expenses; 57% said they saw positive top-line business outcomes in the form of increased revenue and sales (Forrester).

But what could this mean in store? Already we know that:

  • Proximity-based offers triggered on mobile devices have increased the likelihood to purchase during a store visit by 73%, and 61% of shoppers said they would visit a store that offered these real-time offers more often (Swirl).

Proximity-based beacons to influence consumers in real time is already a reality. And based on their impressive conversion metrics, we’ll likely see a lot more of them. But that’s just on mobile, and it requires that consumers download an app. So what about other options? As we move into 2016, we’ll see more use of remote content management to trigger real-time content updates across digital screens or displays in store. This will also come with the ability to gather engagement analytics and to optimize campaigns with A/B and cohort testing, just as you do online.

4. Brick-And-Mortar Dinosaurs Will Bite Back With Real-Time Analytics

We touched on analytics above, but let’s dive a little deeper. Thanks to advances in technology, retailers can already gather basic engagement analytics with digital screens and trace how consumers move through the store. But now brands inside these retail stores can start gathering highly accurate insights as well, including:

  • How many consumers walk past their brand daily?
  • Of those, how many notice their brand?
  • Of those that notice, how many stop?
  • How many engage and with what content?
  • And for all this, how many are male, female, and in what age brackets?

Insider tip: If you are looking at in-store analytics, be wary of WiFi-enabled mobile tracking. This method may soon become obsolete. Apple has already started working on randomizing MAC addresses on the iPhone to prevent tracking, and it’s highly likely that other mobile companies will follow suit.

5. IoT Will Call For An Omnichannel Rethink

When the omnichannel strategy was hatched, the goal was to keep consumers shopping, from channel to channel. And rightfully so:

  • 40% of purchases are made crossing channels, whether searching in store and purchasing online or vice versa (comScore).
  • For Walmart, the average in-store-only shopper spends $1,400 a year; ecommerce only $200; but omnichannel $2,500 (Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon).

But exponential growth in digital is changing things:

  • There are now more than 800 possible shopping journeys available to today’s consumer (Cisco).
  • By 2020, the number of devices connected to the Internet is expected to exceed 40 billion (ABI Research).

While omnichannel strategies were a definite step in the right direction to bridge the digital and physical worlds, we’ve translated the concept largely into replicating each channel everywhere. But with the IoT and wearables, adopting and replicating the same experience on every new digital channel is not feasible. Ideally, it’s time to evolve tactics, meaning every channel does not need to deliver the exact same experience or primary functions as other channels. Instead, we need to carefully evaluate whether a channel makes sense for our unique brand, then identify the unique “why, how, and wow” of these digital channels for our consumers. We need to look at:

  • Why this channel is relevant and impacts consumers positively.
  • How it helps move them along their path and eliminates friction.
  • What the unique “wow” is that cannot be easily replicated on other channels and can be used to amplify the incredible in their experience.

The reality is, the future of retail is now. And thanks to exponential growth in digital, retail has changed. It is now more critical than ever to pay careful attention to emerging trends. Hopefully you found these trends especially helpful for your retail planning.

The Author

Lisa Cramer is vice president of marketing and sales for InReality.

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