Retailers look to technology to speed up transactions

A trend for speedy and convenient transactions is driving the take-up of technology in the retail space, according to a report published this week by Datamonitor.

Although the report is aimed primarily at the technology industry, its findings will be of interest to designers working in the retail sector, says author of the report and lead analyst at Datamonitor’s vertical market technology team Alex Kwiatkowski.

The report says that increasingly discerning but less loyal customers are looking to replicate the speed of transaction and ease of purchase of the Internet when shopping, a phenomenon that is fuelling a trend for a more streamlined and expedient retail space.

Three technologies have been identified as key to this – digital signage, self-service checkouts and near-field communication, a form of radio frequency identification technology that processes payments via mobile handsets.

The combined spend on all three technologies in the UK, the report says, is set to rise from $46m (£23m) last year to $127m (£62m) in 2012.

But with the uptake of technology on the cards, what sort of opportunities does it create for designers?

Jim Thompson, managing director of retail design and branding consultancy 20/20, observes that retail clients are cautious when it comes to adopting new technology into store formats.

‘People need to keep trying new technology and new things to evolve and have a point of difference, but it’s a gamble with the double-edged sword of the cost of technology and the speed at which it changes,’ says Thompson.

Signage technology, because of its cost and speed of change, tends to be used for brief in-store campaigns and promotions, or for showcasing purposes, such as in flagships.

While the report focuses on the advantages of digital signage in targeted advertising, designers are finding that signage technology can be an additional tool to reflect brand values.

Thompson explains that digital signage is more likely to be taken up by a fashion or sports brand for a flagship store than a supermarket roll-out because of the cost of full-scale implementation. The sophistication of the signage technology can be an indicator of the market level of the brand.

One of the best examples of this is sports brand Adidas’s use of a ‘virtual mirror’ in its Champs-Élysées store in Paris, France.

The ‘mirror’ is, in fact, video technology that can record customers’ reflections and project back impressions of what they would look like wearing items found in the store.

While technology can be as much of a fad as a solution, Thompson says near-field communication looks the most likely of the three technologies to have a more permanent impact on retail design, opening up new possibilities and enhancing creativity.

‘Queuing is the number one frustration for consumers and will often put them off actually going into a store. Near-field communication will remove all of this, leaving more time for consumers to do what they want to do – browsing, choosing and trying on,’ says Thompson.

Face-to-face engagement, previously the domain of the till, he says, is a potential area for designers helping to lure customers away from the Internet and back into the shops.

THE GROWTH OF NEAR-FIELD COMMUNICATION

• Predictions suggest that the compound annual growth rate of near-field communication will rise as high as 129% in North America from 2007 to 2012

• In the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions, it is predicted to rise by 91% from 2008 to 2012

• NFC is most prevalent in Japan and North Korea, where the current spend of $27.5m (£13m) is predicted to rise to $142m (£70m) by 2012.

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