Last year, Vestcom and its partners SES and xplace delivered a ground-breaking pilot to a large consumer electronics client in the UK. The goal was to digitise the shelf edge (primarily with Electronic Shelf Edge Labels or ESLs) to reduce the huge amount of wasted time, effort and errors caused by paper tickets. But we also trialled other technologies – including NFC.
The outcome on customer experience and sales in store was as surprising as it was significant.
“Offline has finally realised that it has something which online can never have – presence. And the digitalisation of offline is now the new priority.”
– Andrew Busby, Forbes.com
In 2019, Vestcom and its technology partners SES and xplace delivered a ground-breaking pilot to a large consumer electronics client in the UK. The goal was to digitise the shelf edge in such a way as to reduce the huge amount of wasted time, effort and errors caused by paper tickets.
At the same time, the trial was a chance to test other IoT technologies, the big one being NFC (or Near-Field Communication). If you’ve never come across this before on your mobile phone, think of it as a transmitted QR code that sends product information from the Electronic Shelf Edge Label (ESL) directly to your phone’s browser.
What this means in store, is a way for customers to instantly – and automatically – trigger additional products details on their phone, simply through a quick tap on the label. It provides for a much greater depth of information about a specific product than can be fitted onto a single ticket, backer, piece of POS or indeed an ESL. It can even allow for completion of the sale.
We recently interviewed staff who had taken part in the trial. The headlines were as you might expect – in-store colleagues loved the trial. The removal of 1 to 2 hours of daily ticketing changes at the start of the day could be put to better use (mostly serving customers). The reduction of pricing errors meant less awkward shelf edge interactions – not to mention the lack of frustration when a product had to be sold at less the correct price (these things impact on commission).
But perhaps the most surprising finding was the result of the NFC functionality. We just weren’t expecting the impact on customer experience, colleague empowerment and sales in-store.
It is sobering to realise just how far the digital revolution has transformed customer expectations and how they behave at the shelf edge. We’ve gone way past mere ‘showrooming’: customers come into physical stores expecting digital to be part and parcel of the buying experience.
As one sales colleague explained, customers can have a bewildering range of questions when engaging in a purchasing decision. With paper tickets, there is an element of ‘what-you-see-is-all-there-is’, but there is still a moment where many customers want to think about a purchase, and will ask for additional information to take away.
Simply suggesting to a customer that they should go onto the company’s website, or even “google it’ is often met with a response ‘oh, in that case, I’ll just buy it off Amazon if I have to go online’.
The risk here is not having to go online (assume customers will do that anyway). It’s about respecting the customer’s query, their connectivity – and the fact that they are asking for some help in bridging the gap to get them to make a buying decision.
Being sent online isn’t the problem. Customers are saying to store colleagues: “I’ve come here to buy, I’m not sure, I don’t want to feel ripped off/stupid, and if you can just bridge the gap here with some help and information, I’ll give you the business”.
What NFC seems to offer – at least anecdotally from our interviews – is a way of connecting customers powerfully to a digital source of info that is still within the retailer’s estate. It’s all about trust. And trust is the fuel of customer loyalty. The customer can read through the additional information in-store (and still make the decision there and then), and then choose to buy then or later however they want, with the choice of payment and fulfilment options that they are most comfortable with.
Both actions are a win for the retailers, with customer service extending out into the digital realm. In that way, in-store colleagues become trusted advocates. Who wouldn’t want to buy in that scenario?
As one of the colleagues said to us” We’re supposed to be pioneers in technology, and what the digital shelf edge does is scream ‘technology’.”
Less waste, better service, stronger branding, increased loyalty. When it comes to NFC-enabled ESLs, what’s not to like?
We’d love to digitise your shelf-edge. Why not book a discovery meeting with Vestcom and our partners, and build a digital transformation journey on the iRexM3 platform. Email us to take the next step.