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June 13, 2012

The multi-channel experience: Can you shop and watch TV at the same time?

Posted by Vikram Vij (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:37 AM

Technology has taken the old saw about walking and chewing gum at the same time to levels we never dreamed.  Multitasking has become a byword of today's on-the-go generation of shrewd kids and ambitious young adults.  If you don't have at least one eye on your smartphone, you're not considered to be au courant.  All this despite numerous studies beginning to reveal that doing two or more things at the same time doesn't necessarily make us smarter or more efficient than doing a single task until it's finished without any distraction or interruption.  Not to mention the rudeness factor if your lunch companion is constantly glancing in his or her lap.  But at this point, my argument is let's just get over it.  As long as we're not texting and driving a car, people will continue to live their lives at light speed.

The really good news is that one day there will not be any difference between watching television and shopping.  Retailers are creating new ways to interact with consumers through a multi-channel experience.  Social media is being incorporated into the retailing processes and digital media pervades the in-store experience. The whole idea of television has been transformed by programing that is now becoming more web-based.  Television is also becoming more social, immersive and participatory.  Consumers want to debate candidates, answer polling queries, vote, and make comments about their favorite episodes.  It's not just about putting in their opinion on who should be thrown off the show or voted off an island. It's not hard to imagine how the worlds of retailing and television are rapidly converging with the potential to create an entirely new user experience.

The gearbox behind the scenes will be a personal preference engine that analyzes our behavior to create our preferences and help us make decisions. Who hasn't agonized over all those juice choices on the dinner menu?  Would you welcome an interactive piece of software on your home screen that reminded you:  "Well, sir, you did have the margherita pizza just yesterday?  Why not try Mexican tonight?  Can I interest you in the taco or burrito special?"  Oh, this is not the "2001: A Space Odyssey" computer (remember the HAL 9000?) that ran amok.  It's less scary than it sounds.  We've all used preference engines in some way to choose music, movies, book, restaurants, and just about anything else.  Some are more sophisticated than others but all are based on our inputs and prior purchase behavior.

After personally rating over 300 movies on Netflix, I trust their recommendations better than anyone else's - certainly more than one of those snobby professional movie critics.  Netflix even created a custom category for my favorites.  Add some analytics, a dash of social media and the commensurate helping of machine learning and you can create a personalization engine that knows you better than yourself.  (Or at least has a better memory.) Apply that engine in a converged environment and the possibilities are endless.  With my personalization engine fine-tuned, I can view a show, admire the character's clothing and have the item ordered and delivered the next day.  If you are a retailer, this is a gold mine.  Television and web programing become direct sales channels.  This experience takes product placement to a whole new level.  It's almost too easy to buy.  

And, I guess, that's the point.  

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