How to compete for customers

Technology is changing the way that people shop and with third-party software companies targeting the convenience food and grocery markets, retail owners need to be thinking ahead. Here Julian Fisher, CEO of jisp, offers a view about how to compete for customers.

Q. Julian Fisher, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I have a love affair with the internet and mobile. Back in 1993, I launched the first internet show for business and consumers.

Then in 2004, I created a publishing platform for mobile phones. This was three years before the iPhone. My service allowed the user to get snippets of information. In those days, accessing the internet was expensive and difficult. What we offered was thousands of little stories for people to read.

Next, I started consulting and this brought me into the world of retail and the launch of jisp, where we are creating connections that allow people to know more about the places they are visiting and the products available in them.

Q, What’s your favourite part of being a technology pioneer working in the retail space?

In retail, we have an opportunity to help consumers to use the internet to find products that they want.

At first, we used software to tell consumers where a product was available and what a good price was. We launched this service on a platform but the weakness was that retailers had to sign up and we faced a lot of work and cost to integrate different systems, online and offline data.

What we learned was that the shopper expects the retailer to provide a consistent offer across channels. We launched jisp to deliver this.  Shoppers want the experience to be the same whether they are using thier phone, the internet or walking into a store. They want the same information to be available and the same opportunities. They don’t want a different proposition depending on which channel they are in.

Jisp offers a unified commerce position that connects the physical and digital offer. The retailer needs to see the consumer as the same person in both channels. Today’s consumer comes into their shops with a mobile phone that can tell them what’s available online. There is nowhere for the retailer to hide.

Q. What are the most exciting projects in the convenience and foodservice space that you’re working on at the moment? Could you share some of the new ideas you are using in these projects?

In the convenience market, we are working so that shoppers can walk into a store, use their mobile phones and put products straight in their basket. Then, the store gets to decide how much friction there should be. They could have a geofenced system so that when the shopper walks out this is tracked and payment deducted at the point of exit. Or the store could use a near field communication (NFC) system where the shopper taps to show what they have taken. Or the shop could use tap to pay, where a member of staff would come to the shopper and help to pack their bag.

In the convenience market, the solution is likely to be: walk in, grab what you want and tap out. The most seamless scenario is walking into a store with no barriers, picking products up and walking out. That is the goal that everyone is working towards.

We are at the point where the shopper can tap a label or sticker and engage with the purchase on their phone in that way. But there needs to be a seachange in consumer attitudes where they feel comfortable to shop like a thief would, putting things in their pocket and walking out.

In the UK we are not quite ready for that. In America, they are not ready for cashless solutions.

But in Japan, they have unmanned stores where the shopper goes in and picks stuff up and puts it in their bag. The stores know who the shoppers are and take their money digitally.

At jisp, we are moving towards that point using tap technology and sensors that detect motion. We know what product the shopper has picked up and if they have tapped to pay for it.

Q. What are the consumer behaviours that retail owners need to focus on? How does your software address these? What does an ideal store experience look like in your mind?

While the shopper is fully conscious that they have picked up a product two cultural issues remain.

First, shoppers are used to going to a specific point to pay and some will feel uncomfortable to walk out because they are concerned they will be accused of stealing.

Second, the retailer is asking shoppers to pay in a different way, which may feel uncomfortable at first in the same way that people used to be uncomfortable with paying online.

But humans are always keen to find shortcuts and once these behaviours are established they will be seen as convenient. As soon as shoppers realise they can buy things efficiently with their phones this will become the norm and this will happen in the next two years.

Q. What are the main pain points that retailers talk to you about where technology provides the answer?

The question that retailers are concerned about is theft. There are a small number of consumers who will take advantage of the technology to steal. But retailers want a frictionless solution.

We have not experienced theft problems in our tests but we know it has happened in other trials, for example, one in Holland. The problems are either that the system did not connect properly or that people could go pretend to tap and get away with it.

There is still a bit of development needed from the industry to fix these problems and they will be fixed.

At jisp, we have three ways of detecting that a product has been picked up and are getting to a point of 99.9 per cent accuracy. But people go into the Amazon Go stores to prove that they can beat the system and some do. We will have the same issue of people always want to try and break something.

Q.All brick and mortar retailers are finding their margin mix is under pressure. How do they make the business case for investing in technology? What value should they create/avoid losing?

Retail owners must look to the fact that their consumers are constantly being engaged by other technologies and other solutions to make their lives easier.

Their customers not only go where the best products are at the best prices but also where it is most convenient to shop. Convenience is very powerful.

If a retailer decides they are not going to provide the most up-to-date convenience solutions then they have to be very good at something else.

I find that retailers will buy technology if it delivers savings. While technology may deliver new sales, retailers mainly invest on the basis that they will save money.

At jisp, I think our solutions are helping to save jobs because we cut costs. For example, an RFID tag costs less than a penny. I know a store where their entire stock of fresh turkeys was taken by a lady who pushed a trolley in, filled it and walked out. Why not invest in a system to protect high-value stock?

Technology can solve problems for a small investment and so many retailers don’t consider it.

Q. Many shop owners struggle to increase the frequency of visit and weight of purchase by shoppers. What is your secret recipe to achieve this? What targets do successful retail owners set?

Loyalty is the main driver. Retailers need to find the touchpoints that consumers are interested in. And they need to make it easy for shoppers to visit their shops.

Most shoppers are still active in the high street, so retailers need to compete harder. It can be as simple as asking their staff to smile.

The best target for a loyalty scheme is to measure how many points are converted into purchases. Consumers need to see the rewards as achievable.

Instead of paper vouchers, retailers need to engage with shoppers on their phones and not with paper vouchers. A great example is the Morrisons loyalty card, which delivers points when the shopper is using the card to pay for purchases.

The best proposition is to deliver value on a shopper’s mobile phone at the point of purchase so the shopper sees the benefit.

Q. What is the best way for retailers to get shoppers to sign-up for new technology solutions? How do they persuade shoppers to make using the technology a habit?

The best time to sign a customer up is when you are giving them an offer or saving them money.

Think about it this way. If your care beaks down and you don’t have cover, how would you feel if the recovery service not only comes out and fixes your car but gives you a discount if you sign up for ongoing cover?

So in the convenience market, sign people up at the time when you are rewarding them. You will get a better result than saying sign up and you will get a reward in the future.

Shoppers know that their information has a value and they expect something back.

Q. As a shopper yourself, what are your favourite retail technology tools that you cannot survive without?

It is my mobile phone. The fact that I can use ApplePay. The fewer things that I have to remember to take with me the better. The device of choice is going to be wearable, either your phone or your watch. Consumers will start to move away from cards as well as cash.

Q. How many different technology solutions should an outlet invest in? Do they all have to work together? And do they have to work across competitor outlets as well? 

To engage with customers retailers have to be able to provide them with information on their mobile phones. To do this you need to have a technology solution.

We use near field communication (NFC) and QR codes, which both have advantages for the retailer and are relatively inexpensive to install. In particular much cheaper than placing ten, 20, 30 or even 50 cameras in a shop to track the movements of your customers.

With jisp on their phone, the shopper can quickly find out information about a product you sell. They do not need to make a Google search, which involves getting a lot of answers and some from your competitors. 

As a retailer, you are helping them find out about the product you are selling, and not how to find the same product sold by 20 other retailers.

Our app allows the consumer to have multiple engagements with stores without having to download multiple apps. Consumers have moved to the point where even the downloading of an app is a frustration. What they want is for a service to work straight away on their phone without any effort on their part. People want instant everything.

At the point of purchase, retailers need to give shoppers information as quickly as possible

Q. What technology do you think every convenience and foodservice outlet will be using in the next five years?

Shoppers will be using more wearables – watches, rings, even fingernails – using almost no cash and will be leaving their credit cards at home.

In store, they will be expecting greater digital interaction. There will be a more clever use of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).

A big challenge for the industry is how to deliver a personalised service to consumers without compromising their privacy. Consumers like being treated as individuals and to be given products and choices relevant to them. But we cannot use personal information to deliver this as we did in the past.

Q.Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. But before you go, do you have any other tips for retail owners?

Listen to your customers. Go where they go and adopt the same technologies that they are. It is always going to be about the experience as well as price and availability.

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