Salon Talk: Minter Dial.

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Digital Innovation in Retail.

The first of the new Like Minds Women in Business Salon Talks saw Minter Dial, Founder of The Myndset, presented an entertaining overview of the current state of “Digital Innovation in Retail”. The upstairs room at Swarovski Crystallised – just off London’s Regent Street – was bright and airy and, with its view overlooking the Liberty store opposite, was an appropriate venue for a retail-based discussion.

Minter is a man who knows retail and digital – globally. He travels the world helping leading brands and retail chains implement the digital strategies that best fit their needs and the needs of the web-enabled marketplace. It’s this global awareness that’s one of the reasons Minter’s talk was so engrossing: he was able to back up stories and ideas with evidence from across the world. In the course of his talk, we visited New York, Seoul, London, Paris, and Melbourne.

Before the main event, there was tea and conversation. And there were cupcakes. In fact, the cupcakes looked so appealing that it was obviously dissuading attendees from disrupting the display by actually eating any. I bravely took it upon myself to show the way. I can report that they were as delicious as they threatened to be.

Minter identified 5 separate approaches or phases of digital in retail. These phases are:

  1. Outward
  2. Terminal
  3. Interactive
  4. Integrated
  5. Everywhere

Whatever the phase and whatever the strategy, Minter stressed that the successful implementation of digital in retail depends on walking in the the shoes of the customer.

Any implementation that fails to be interactive is unlikely to form part of a strategic plan. At this level, there is little more than the use of geo-location tools and personalised messages. Even when it comes to interactive, there are many varieties. The Cartier store in Manhattan, for instance, used a window display with a box that opened in response to the movements of customers outside the store.

It gathered a crowd, it elicited gasps of pleasure, it looked good and clever. But was it attracting the core customers that Cartier was aiming for? Perhaps, by establishing aspiration now but that is a long game that is rarely seen in this kind of marketing.

Minter told us of his experience of the Uniqlo HeatTech campaign, where a chain of different digital approaches led to a satisfying and – for Uniqlo – successful conclusion. From store representatives outside the store getting potential customers to ‘generate heat’ using a tablet game, through am interactive walkway into the store, and then a coupon emailed directly to a smart device using the store’s free wi-fi, this was a well-thought out process.

And fun, too. The only failing was that, although Minter’s details had been captured in Oxford Street in London, he made a purchase at a store in Paris. The tracking wasn’t clever enough to capture this fact. It seems obvious that, when running global stores in locations frequented by tourists, it is vital to be able to track data across national boundaries.

In Melbourne, Minter visited leading Australian grocery store Coles. There was a table with six iPads offering the chance to browse recipes and food ideas. So far, so good. Unfortunately, three of the iPads weren’t working. Nobody had either the responsibility or the technical skills or even the simple gumption to do anything about it. What promised to be an experience that could add to the shopping visit ended up taking away from it.

In too many cases, potentially good ideas are foiled by poor execution or lack of strategic oversight. There are posters and marketing collateral that contain website addresses. This is surely a bare minimum nowadays. But such collateral should also have Twitter details and a QR code for scanning with a smartphone to continue the engagement on-line.

Perch are a company doing some great things with data gathering and interactivity within the retail environment. At one Manhattan store – Story (on the West Side, inevitably) – when a customer picks up an item from a display or shelf, not only is that action recorded, but the space beneath the item transforms into an information paradise, offering the customer interactive information associated with the item. So, a potentially wasteful space is now a digital asset.

For every success, there is a near miss. A recent House of Fraser campaign appeared to be a perfect example of an integrated implementation. Items and signs in store promoted on-line offers. Unfortunately, accessing the on-line offers revealed that prices had not been aligned. Cue customer confusion and sales staff consternation and panic. As Minter was to repeat on many occasion during this talk, “Bugs are bad!”

Given the time available, Minter’s global tour of the best – and worst – implementations of digital in retail was bound to be conducted at a vertiginous pace. However, his passion for the subject and his enthusiastic and personable presentation style kept the focus clear. So, exhausting as a world-wide review of retail threatened to be, it was a treat to follow and disappointing when it all had to come to an end.


The Four Key Points.

Here are Minter’s four key points to remember about digital in retail:

  • We’re still in the ‘age of wow’: customer expectations are quite low, so it is comparatively easy to impress. The downside is that ‘wow’ can quickly become ‘ow’ when bugs are encountered.
  • The implementation of digital must be strategic and not a question of disparate stand-alone tactics.
  • Ensure that personnel are fully trained in current digital media tools – and buy into the strategic vision.
  • Hire the best people.

There are obviously huge challenges facing retail management teams wishing to innovate with digital:

  • Why are we doing it?
  • What resources are available with which to do it?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How do we balance the needs of data capture with the demands of customer privacy?
  • And, finally, how do we embody the changes we want to see in the organisation?

Once these questions are answered, it remains essential to remember to kill all the tech bugs!

The lively Q&A that followed kicked off with a discussion of ‘show-rooming’ and whether that presented a threat or an opportunity for retail stores. After looking at the growth of wi-fi enabled stores and talking about the personalisation possible within stores, the consensus in the room was that attempts by some stores to limit customer internet access was misguided – and destined to fail.

Minter then talked about the Tesco store at Gatwick, which lets departing passengers arrange food deliveries for their return home and introduced us to the grocery-ordering terminals at bus stops and on Metro station walls in Seoul.

Before we could set off again on another global journey, it was time to break for some final networking – and of course more cupcakes.

For another take on Minter’s talk, check out the blog post by attendee Elle Moss from agency Drew London.

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