GUEST COLUMN: When it comes to technology, just because you can doesn’t mean you should

On a recent visit to Manhattan I reviewed a retail concept for a global brand and was surprised at how, even in 2020, it’s common to see digital implementations that feel like a retail store designer throwing digital at a space without any real thought around the ‘Why’.

There were videowalls, motion sensors with triggered content, interactive tablets, interactive screens, projectors, order screens and iPads oozing from every wall and concept area; but, incredibly, none of them worked together or had any consistency of theme. 

Some screens were updated with USB sticks, some via a webpage, and some were using a more networked content delivery platform. None actually felt like they delivered any discernible, real, value to the experience in-store. Instead of simplifying the process and guiding me to a ‘next best action’, I was left confused and simply switched-off. There was clearly no cohesive strategy driving any of the decisions which had been made. 

To make matters worse, speaking to the store team, they had little faith or trust in the solution and clearly had next to no ‘spare’ time to update it; to keep it relevant and fresh, and even less of an idea how to actually do this in any event. 

The net result was that it fundamentally failed as a measured implementation in improving engagement through a well-thought-through customer experience combined with an over-arching Digital Strategy. 

Then there was the globally famous fast-food chain I visited, who had implemented digital menus; but failed to understand how customers want (and need) to use them. And they are a big, BIG brand. The text was tiny and on a white background (poor contrast), categories were cluttered and mixed together and there was little to no sense of helping the customer at the point of purchase. In fact, it worked only as a barrier to choice - certainly to a quick choice. Some context-led large, simple campaigns and guidance about the latest and greatest products would be a great way to easily change this. 

You will, no doubt, have seen similar implementations which seem driven more by the ‘How’ and far less by the ‘Why’. Technology for its own sake. The ‘we can do it too’ effect because they can, without thinking if, indeed, they even should. This results in a deployment that doesn’t understand or appreciate that this is so much more than being about the launch and instead is actually all about day 2+ and what happens when the retail design team moves on. 

The questions that should be asked surely include: How will any of this help with customer engagement and thus help their understanding of the offer. How can this be harnessed to drive revenue? How can we use this to generate productivity savings? How does this scale? How is it being supported and by whom? Who is managing the content? How is it being measured? What drove the decisions leading to the project to install all that kit? What is your content strategy, and where does it go from here? How do you keep it agile, attractive and effective? 

We work with brands all the time who appreciate there is a need, and want to deploy digital technology as a response - Our first job is to help them be honest with themselves - they often aren’t even sure what the problem is, or what they are trying to achieve. 

As an industry, we need to ensure our customers fully appreciate what they don’t know, and how to get to a clear understanding of the problem before proposing any solution. 

Surely that’s the first place to start, and then walk very slowly from there. Our customers will thank us, their customers will thank them, and the industry will surely then have some truly great implementations which we can all talk about with pride. 


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