Retail Goes Social With Wearables

It was bound to happen. We are so addicted to being digitally connected that it was only a matter of time before we started wearing our computers.

With total retail sales in the United States approaching $400 billion every month, consumers are shifting from in-store shopping to e-commerce buying. But wearable digital devices just may change the bricks-to-clicks slide.

By 2018, 500 million wearable devices will have been sold, revolutionizing the way all of us shop. Unlike phones, wearables connect brands to consumers through all steps of the purchase funnel. Combined with beacon technologies and purchase intention, wearable devices will expose better products, deals and reviews to shoppers. And more importantly, they'll generate demand.

Wearables will shape the next-generation retail experience by creating a uniquely social opportunity for businesses to educate and influence shoppers and, in turn, drive higher sales. Wearables will bring the brick-and-mortar shopping experience back in vogue.

Consumers looking to make a major purchase, like a new mobile phone, want to feel, see and experience products before making the big purchase. They are less likely to just click on Amazon and hope for the best when it's delivered. A wearable device allows consumers to simply leave their home and begin a whole new shopping experience. When a prospective customer walks past a store, a wearable digital device could light up with an offer to come in and get a discount. More importantly, once the customer walks in, the store can immediately engage him or her with service.

While inviting stores to compete for a consumer's business can mean lower prices and incentives, consumers don't want dozens of push notification offers that feel like spam.

The solution is intention capture. It goes beyond predictive models; what's needed is expressed intention to purchase something specific and immediately.

Knowing the customer's express purpose, two or three retailers could send competing offers via the wearable device. Wearables act as an opportunity-maximizer, pushing nearby stores to compete and increase customer value through discounts without seeking them out.

Whether the customer sits at a computer or stands on a street corner, it won't matter. Both have a shot at selling the product to a customer motivated to buy immediately.

Imagine how wearables could help generate demand. Brands could drive customers into a store, not just with discounts and promotions, but also through peer support and recommendations.

In the near future, we will wake up, think about getting coffee and prepare to brew a pot - and then receive a push notification from a friend: "Hey, want to go to Starbucks?" Next, another friend nearby responds: "On my way. Order me a regular black coffee." Tapping your watch, you instantly type: "Me, too. Meet you all there."

That's generated demand. You wouldn't have gone to Starbucks, but now you will, and you're meeting friends. It's the next generation of marketing, and it's going to revolutionize how and why we pay for products and services.

This combination of purchase intention, behavioral analysis and big data tied to a wearable communications network is a combination Amazon simply cannot match.

Wandering through a shopping mall was once the symbol of the American consumer experience and was then exported to other cultures the world over. At the dawn of the information age it appeared that experience was dead; all shopping would be done with a click. Wearables can bring back to life the social element of shopping, but in a way it never existed before.