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Augmented Reality and Multi Channel Retail- Unifying the Customer Touchpoints

Most retailers have three primary channels: stores, catalog, and online. A catalog offers a great selection of products in a medium that customers are comfortable with and providing service through a contact center allows ample opportunity for cross-sells and up-sells. The online channel has even greater selection plus integration with social networks, user reviews, easy comparison shopping with other retailers and the convenience of shopping at convenience. The traditional brick and mortar stores let the customers handle and play with products, return items in person, carry them home with you that day and talk with a salesperson if they have questions. The advent of Mobile commerce and growth of the convergence phenomena across the digital world through 'augmented reality' and 'ubiquitous connectivity' has led to unique opportunities for retailers to leverage in developing another channel for commerce as well as enhance the capabilities of existing channels.


Many blogs and articles have shared the consumer benefits from convergence as well as augmented reality. 'Augmented reality' technology has the potential to transform the customer experience in fundamental ways that separate the leaders from the laggards in retail. I wanted to step back and look at the possibilities of how 'augmented reality' view of the customer can enhance the effectiveness of operations of retailer's channels. Retailers already build a 1.0 version of  'augmented reality' of the customer by tracking all of a customer's purchases in multiple channels through rewards programs or true central transaction database. Recent addition of the wish lists and 'shop with friends' capabilities allow retailers to understand what customers are interested in, but not buying. However these databases will soon be as obsolete as rolodexes on sales person's desk. Contacts, mailing lists will no longer generate business in any channel. Relationship based selling will soon be entering the consumer retail like B2B sales and social networks are a big part of the change. This is the new shift  from 'I Know' to 'I know, Right Here, Right now'. "Rich Information Visualization" is Gartner defined as Technology Trigger in Gartner Hype Cycle for CRM Customer Service and Field Service, 2009 is a key trend that will shape how Retail works- with the customer as well as within it's sales channels.


'Augmented Reality' in terms of enhanced awareness of location, content and relevance of the interactions with customer as well as the operational effectiveness of the channels through layering of the information will be the immediate uses retail industry can adopt. Augmented reality could affect everything in the retail value chain: marketing, merchandising, selling and even the way employees work and communicate with one another. What essentially is information flowing seamlessly from a unified view, would enable multiple touch points across the supply chain with enhanced information and anticipated behavior of the customer. Does this mean overlapping of CRM function into SCM? Leaving asides semantics that certainly seems the future where the 'right here and now' access to the customer interactions across the channels would be a required capability across various points in the supply chain and not an interim data management capability like CRM or BI. The cornerstone to enhancing supply chain effectiveness from the massive amount of information expected from the high number of 'interactions' with the customer is creating unified view of each customer from snapshots of their 'interactions' across sales channels. These could range from actual purchases, wish lists, social network extract and to search phrases etc.


The key point to consider is that as retailers continue to strive towards the holy grail of a true multichannel operation or integration end state, new developments like 'augmented reality' and 'ubiquitous commerce' will add to the complexity and challenge of keeping up with the consumer technology curve. In my future vision of retail, I see the transactions, behavior and expectations of the customer across all channels get enmeshed into a unified view of the customer allowing the retailer to orchestrate its operations and supply chains for various channels to deliver the optimal 'augmented' experience.

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