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As Mobile Dominates Commerce, Stores Must Embrace ‘Social Role’

The role of physical businesses — and in-store communication — is changing, says PSFK founder Piers Fawkes.

The rise of mobile has affected all facets of commerce, and that impact was clear over this year’s Thanksgiving weekend: Smartphones were the tool of choice for browsing deals, and a majority of consumers who actually came to stores still used their mobile devices as a shopping aid.

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Piers Fawkes

Media entity PSFK aims to help companies make sense of these trends — and, to an extent, sniff out what’s coming next. PSFK researches, analyzes, and forecasts consumer behavior, aiming to act as a “future-forward” resource for everything from culture news to retail and technology.

Founder Piers Fawkes talked to GeoMarketing about the trend takeaways from Black Friday — and the 2016 rise of the “global nomad.”

GeoMarketing: You founded PSFK in 2004. What was the impetus behind its creation, and how have the topics you’re focusing on evolved?

Piers Fawkes: PSFK really began as a passion project. It was just about creating content and sharing ideas around certain topics that I didn’t think was being discussed at that point.

Those ideas were stories about innovation in consumer culture, which is basically what we write about today: innovation business, culture, creative culture of all sorts, etc.

Obviously, we’ve always been talking about startups and technology in that field, but it’s amazing how much it’s infiltrated our lives. That’s what led to the [Live Work Play and The Future Connected Life reports] that we published in the middle of this year.

We wanted to create a report that would help companies think about how they could help people thrive in that [connected IoT] space that has really come to dominate our lives. We respond to the trends as much as our audience does.

Speaking of trends, let’s talk about Black Friday. What did you expect to see, and which trends actually played out?

What seems to be the big shift is the growth of the mobile and digital experience. It has become sufficient to the point where we’re seeing people stay home [on Black Friday] and avoid the crowds.

Of course, there’s a role for the store; maybe it’s just different. There can be an informational role, the societal role, the educational role… [the in-store experience] matters. I think that’s important. But then I think in times where people are just buying a commodity quickly, often online search engines and mobile search engines can just do a better job.

A majority of people browsed deals on their smartphones this holiday. It shows the importance of mobile throughout the whole experience. What’s happening is, basically, we have all these tools in place — and now we need to work out how you use all these tools to drive people through the holiday periods, through seasonal periods.

What’s your take on how retailers can reach shoppers on mobile during the critical in-store moment, especially now that a majority of them are using their smartphones as a shopping aid?

There are a couple of challenges going on. One of the biggest ones for retailers is simply to get consumers to [interact with their brand on mobile], which is challenging unless there’s an established behavior that encourages it. For example, Walgreen’s has a couponing flyer. People are familiar with, they go in, and they check for coupons.

So they’re always opening the app, but for many retailers, they don’t have that sort of ingrained behavior,

As a result, I think all what we’re seeing is the rise of text messaging and alternative formats in terms of communicating to shoppers, something that thinks outside of the app.

Text messaging is a natural, native way of communication between people and brands, and what’s happening alongside that is the rise of artificial intelligence. AI can manage and process a lot of this messaging communication, and it can speak to people in a personalized way — or turn them over to a real person when needed.

I think we’ll see more of this, because it has the potential to “shop along” with people when they’re asking questions like “help me understand where the offer is, help me understand more about this product.”

What’s your opinion, then, on beacon-based messaging? Is this an effective way to open those lines of communication, or do you think its success is hindered by the large number of shoppers who don’t think to open their app in stores?

I’d put it this way: If the success of beacons comes, it will manifest in a different way than we’re expecting.

A lot of people are expecting that the beacon is going to send information of a personal nature to the user, because of the position they have in the store and other information that it can access, right? What I think could probably happen is the beacon can track you as a user in the store, but you are actually communicating directly to sales center or customer support through text messaging.

Essentially, I think there’s a beacon use case for providing a personal experience —a better in-store experience — rather than just to send content.

Any other thoughts on coming trends for 2016? What are the interest areas for PSFK we head into the new year?

We’ll be seeing a lot of what we might term “the independent worker ” or the “global nomad.”

Partly, for a variety of reasons, younger and older workers are going to be forced into a fraction or freelance role very quickly in the next year or two. There are going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to be working full time — at least in the conventional sense — and it will present a number of challenges and opportunities. What does [the trend toward freelance work] mean in terms of how they work, how they shop, where they live?

We’ve been talking about that for a while about how everyone will be working in freelance, but I think we’re going to see that shift a lot sooner than we thought. The question then, for companies, is how to [understand and target them.] How do we help them live, work, play better?

That’s something we’ll see a big shift in sooner than we expect.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of GeoMarketing.com. A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.