Is Retail Healthcare Technology’s Next Frontier?

I’ll be speaking this week at the Customer Engagement Technology World (CETW) show taking place in New York. As expected, the show’s news and information should be heavy on technologies, advancements and customer-centric tactics. No real surprise as we know that’s where today’s marketing landscape is heading. We live in a world where consumers are global, connected, engaged, mobile and constantly moving between their offline and online worlds. Today’s consumer is empowered and in-control.

But, despite the rise of digital, another familiar theme rings true across the industry: Retail matters. Despite today’s technologies and gadgets we are still frequenting retail, brick-n-mortar locations.

I whole heartedly believe in technology and its ability to empower today’s consumer. But there is no disputing the facts: Consumers still frequent retail locations and they matter in a consumer’s “offline” and “online” world. Don’t believe me? Ask Apple. Their retail strategy is a crucial link to their success. And retailers—industry wide—are following suit. Almost every retailer out there today is building up their customer-centric tactics and technologies. Retail offers the perfect arena to blend the digital and real worlds.

From drugstores to fashion retailers to grocery chains, retailers are increasingly using the latest technologies to enhance the in-store experience for consumers. Whether that’s interacting with consumers on the increasingly important and always-on device—the smartphone—or providing unique in-store digital displays and kiosks, the goal is to deliver more value and information to help drive brand awareness, loyalty and sales. And a big focus on these offerings center around healthcare and wellness.

In a recently released IDC report the term “Omni-channel Consumer” was highlighted as a major disruption going on now for retail. Retailers need to understand consumers are interacting with multiple channels and constantly moving between their online and offline worlds. “Consumers have taken control of the future direction of the industry and are lighting the path for technology investment in 2012. Shopping experiences that are genuine and product offers that are relevant across all channels will be the key to growing same shopper sales,” said Bob Parker, group vice president at IDC Retail Insights.

Last month digital agency Razorfish announced they were creating a new digital lab dubbed “Emerging Experiences Practice” to develop and showcase the latest digital experiences for in-store retail. An industry article noted, “if you talk to big digital agencies like Razorfish and SapientNitro these days, it sounds like the new money to be made in digital is based inside retail stores.” Although the new lab will debut in Atlanta, the effort will expand later this year to San Francisco and hit New York in early 2013, with international expansions right around the corner.
Historically, the industry/retail side of the world has pushed technology forward. Although still true, consumers today are leading the charge more than ever before. Armed with the latest digital and mobile technologies, consumers expect a more convenient, economical and rewarding retail experience.

Businesses today absolutely should be embracing the latest technologies but with an eye towards the consumer experience. For retailers, the question should be what do you offer your consumers to make their experience—both “offline” and “online”—more convenient and valuable and that will keep them coming into your store?
It’s about embracing customer-centric technologies. Just look around – everywhere you’ll see businesses offering benefits for consumers: Healthcare providers are offering discounts for health and wellness lifestyle choices; pharmacy retailers are rewarding consumers for healthy choices and repeat purchases; and retailers across the U.S. are engaging with consumers via multiple channels with valuable incentives and benefits.

A recent survey conducted by AccentHealth and DSN revealed that a satisfied customer could offer the highest ROI of any marketing vehicle available to retail: 72% of consumers surveyed say they would recommend their preferred pharmacy and grocery stores finished at the top with 80%.

In today’s ad-cluttered, time-strapped world, peer and family recommendations matter more now than ever. And our ubiquitous social-mobile connections power these recommendations like never before. A Nielsen study shows than almost 90% of purchases are made from peer or family recommendations. Think about that.

Retailers today need to create an in-store experience that is customer-centric, beneficial, valuable and rooted in today’s technologies. And the opportunities to offer useful healthcare and wellness services are ample. Customers are still frequenting retail… just give them plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

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