Steve Dollase | July 18, 2014

New technology will reach consumers with targeted product suggestions while they are in the store

Remember the 2002 movie "Minority Report," where customized ads appeared to individuals as they passed digital signs and billboards? At the time, way back in 2002, this seemed like an outlandish, future-shock fantasy, but now, barely more than a decade later, it's only a breath away.

Think about where we are already: New cars have keys you don't even have to put in a key hole — they recognize the keychain fob in your pocket or purse and you push a button to start the car; the system also "recognizes" you by your fob and resets the seat and mirrors to your preference after the teen-ager adjusted it all out-of-whack; cloud computing makes smartphone photos available on your computer without you even asking; and of course, Internet ads appear on every web site you visit, based on that Google search from only a few minutes ago.

Okay, so that's not quite the spontaneous recognition depicted in "Minority Report." But there's more. Enter Oreos. Yes, Oreos, those delectable chocolate-and cream cookies. You know you want them — and so does their manufacturer. In fact, a number of news sources have reported that Oreos' parent company, Mondelez, is moving toward smart-shelf technology to remind you of that guilty craving by catching you at the very moment of sweet-snack-purchase weakness.

You're probably already aware of smart-shelf technology that alerts store personnel to out-of-stocks, organized retail crime activity and self-checkout shoplifting as stock is cleared from shelves. The continued refinement of RFID (radio-frequency identification) is revealing new ways to manage supply, and is even capable of auto-ordering stock from the manufacturer as it depletes.

That kind of supply chain technology and long-term labor cost reduction is revolutionary when you consider that inventory control and stock status have critical, direct impact on profitability.
But I digress — back to your Oreo fix. The Wall Street Journal reports that Mondelez is preparing to launch smart-shelf technology in 2015 that will determine the age and gender of shoppers in real-time while they are in the store. With that information, they can produce a coupon on the spot or even show a custom video advertisement encouraging another specific purchase.

That may seem like a lot of effort to get you to buy some cookies. But when you take into account the many brands Mondelez owns, including Chips Ahoy!, Cadbury, Triscuits and Wheat Thins, if they are monitoring stock status of all of their products, they could know what you already have in the cart and offer coupons on those or suggest additional related purchases. In effect, they become your technological personal shopper for their brands.

Trey Moser, Inmar's Senior Director of Retail Analytics, says the likelihood of broader adoption of this technology will be evolutionary. Trey predicts that retailers and manufacturers will generally enter this realm in three phases, starting with the robust array of information that can be gathered for more than just targeted content delivery.
Early adoption will likely focus on accumulation of new data like heat maps that track shopper movement, dwell times, age/gender tracking, etc. The second phase will leverage that data at store level with push notifications and/or e-mail to customers. Phase 3 is where we will see more utilization of the data in real time at the shelf. Some early tests may jump right to Phase 3, but most will likely want to make sure they ease into it with their customers before hitting them with numerous offers in-aisle. Particularly during Phases 2 and 3, Inmar will be ready to help our retail and CPG clients drive sales and loyalty by using this new data to deliver relevant, highly personalized offers to their shoppers (something we are already doing today with transactional POS data).

Of course, wielding this information brings with it an even greater accountability: Building to the promise of real-time product suggestion amplifies the importance of rigorous supply-chain management. If you're going to suggest a product to a shopper in-store, it will be more important than ever to make sure it's there when they reach for it. Inmar will be fully engaged in the aggregation and analysis of this data to help clients maximize effective, profitable utilization of this exciting new frontier of information.

Other smart-shelf technology in development includes mounting tiny speakers on store shelves to make ultrasonic "whispered" suggestions to shoppers when they are standing in a precise location in the store. A Russian company makes devices that gauge a shopper's mood and pitches them accordingly, and they have designs on the American marketplace.
Where is all this going? The opportunities are boundless for complete visibility of stock status and the capability to influence its movement off the shelves in real-time synchronization with consumer decision making.

Thinking back to "Minority Report," consider the latest wearable technology, such as the electronic bracelets that identify wearers through aspects of their unique, biologic signature. They can replace passwords and even unlock the car door with a simple hand motion. With such technology, shoppers could consent to being "known" as soon as they enter a store, much like they already do with loyalty cards at the cash register. It's simply an incredible opportunity to move that purchase suggestion backward in time to the actual moment shoppers are prepared to purchase.

What else could be done with such predictive-influence technology? Business reports that Mondelez's consumer engagement guru, B. Bonin Bough, wants to devise a way to use tracking technology to figure out when people are having lunch — he'd like to send them a push notification reminding them they'll need a stick of Trident gum before their post-lunch meeting. If there are heavy onions on that sandwich, I'm in favor of that development if they're headed to a meeting with me.

What do you think about the benefits or potential burdens of this technology in your business? Take a few seconds to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


  • Supply Chain