Bringing Technology to Retail: 3 Factors to Consider

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Mobile experiences have dramatically changed consumer expectations over the last 5 years (believe or not, the iPad turned three years old last month!). People have grown accustomed to the personalization and accessibility enabled by portable consumer technologies like smartphones and tablets, which have blurred the lines between digital and physical. With the rate of change in technology, we can only imagine what the next 5 years will hold.


At Control Group, our clients come to us because they want to connect and keep up with their customers across the complex ecosystem of digital and physical touchpoints by leveraging technology in thoughtful and creative ways.


Over the last few years we’ve seen retailers redefine their use of in-store technology, and we’ve had many opportunities to help companies solve challenges ranging from omni-channel integration, showrooming, and leveraging shopper analytics to better understand customer behavior and inform business decisions.


Our conversations with our retail clients often share similar themes that permeate the conversations about technology across other industries as well. Mainly, that investment in technology can be risky, stakeholders are being challenged to do more with less, and yet they are being held accountable to deliver demonstrable value.


Here are some lessons we’ve learned that have enabled us to help our clients make the most of smaller budgets, while minimizing risk, and still accomplishing something larger.

1. Although it’s less sexy than a gorgeous UI or immersive UX, investing in stable, well-architected infrastructure that maintains uptime and performance is often an overlooked aspect of successful digital retail solutions. Beautiful design is inconsequential to a customer if she gets frustrated from a slow or broken experience.


Disruptors like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other Cloud providers have changed the way that supporting infrastructure can be designed, tested, and deployed. With well-designed Cloud systems supporting in-store digital touchpoints, brands can avoid investing in server hardware, reduce IT overhead, and gain a ton of flexibility. With Cloud-backed solutions, deployment can be as easy as store managers connecting iPads to wifi, and custom apps can automatically configure and update themselves.

2. Avoid the pitfalls of digital “trophyware” where technology becomes a veneer that can result in novelty, not clarity. iPads are great, but how many stores in NYC have a few iPads around, housed in beautiful acrylic cases that are gathering dust? (I visited three stores last weekend in SoHo alone with unfortunate iPad graveyards on display…). Technology should aid the shopping experience, or provide new ways for shoppers to create emotional connections to the brand and products.

3. We’ve seen a sea change in the last few years with the “consumerization of IT” — and consumer electronics are increasingly relevant and usable for commercial digital solutions. iPads, touch-enabled displays, inexpensive sensors and cameras can all be leveraged to support agile platforms in-store.


It’s this agility that is key to retail innovation. Retailers should invest in platforms that enable incremental innovation and experimentation, and reduce risk. Define a minimum viable product and get it out there. Watch. Learn. Don’t assume you know more about your customers than they know about themselves. Leveraging Web-like analytics in the physical store space can provide insight into shopper behavior, foot traffic pathing, product lift, and navigation through an app at a digital kiosk. With a flexible digital platform and good data, designing A/B versions of an experience can provide super informative and sometimes unexpected insight into shopper behavior. These learnings can inform decision making on changes, new features, and a product roadmap.


Control Group has been successful using these lessons in a few recent notable retail and luxury technology projects:


For Delta Airlines and OTG, we built a platform that has enabled them to transform their gate areas from unremarkable waiting rooms into relaxing and engaging points-of-sale. We started with a clearly defined business problem – how could OTG expand their footprint to reach more travelers and provide valuable services at the same time?


After visiting the airport and observing travelers, the solution took shape as an iteration on their existing iPad pilot, and incorporated additional technologies and services aimed at providing a relaxing experience for travelers. We worked with Delta to incorporate live flight data, and integrated with a point-of-sale system to enable purchasing of food directly from the iPads. We designed, built, and implemented an extensive interactive experience that helped them extend the reach of their award-winning restaurants at LaGuardia, JFK, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Toronto airports and realize sales per passenger that are double the national average.


For Kate Spade New York, we worked with the brand to create a re-imagined retail environment for the launch of their new brand, Saturday. To engage the always-connected millennial shoppers, we replaced traditional printed in-store signage with an iPad-based digital platform that engages shoppers with fun suggestions and product information. The platform allows Saturday’s marketing department in NYC to distribute consistent, branded content globally, while allowing local employees to make nuanced changes based on real-time insights. The combination of print cost savings, local and real-time flexibility, and global branding control add up to an industry-leading signage innovation.




Written by Charlie Miller, Associate Partner at Control Group



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