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Absolute vs. comparative success in retail

26th May 2015
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We work in an industry where results are demanded instantly. A question I’m often asked is how do we measure success? Or more pertinently, what does success look like? The answer to that is far from simple, especially in the world of retail. 
In the realm of media, things are a little more straightforward. That banner generated a million views, or a thousand people clicked through; broadcast media is monitored and reported by a plethora of different companies. It’s transparent and easy to understand, but retail is a much more difficult beast to tame. Unless someone stands with a clip board, counter and way too much time on their hands next to every standee, FSDU or digital screen then it’s challenging to say exactly how many people notice it when they’re browsing around their local shops. Even tougher if you then want to understand the impact it had on sales. Cookies may be a great tracking tool in the digital realm, but in retail they are… well, you know the rest. 
Interactions are the key. We want to know how many people that have been directly influenced, as a result of the point of sale that has been placed. If you’re dealing with print, which is still the most prevalent form of advertising in a retail store, then what are the options for tracking the consumer? 
First, we could get them to perform an action. We could add NFC or QR codes, which are passive forms of media. Tesco ran an effective campaign last year directing people to a video of fireworks going off. Customers could access that content via a QR code on the shelf edge. Short of letting the things off in-store, it’s the only way to get an understanding of what it is they were buying. 
Alternatively there are beacons, the new kid on the retail block. They actively communicate to consumers with a certain app via Bluetooth, but of course the app must be downloaded to be targeted in the first place. I’ve seen a few fantastic ideas for how this could be used, such as the Regent Street app over Christmas, which enabled users to select their favourite brands and be sent offers as you walked past the store, pulling you inside to spend your hard earned money. 
Then there is a digital version of the person with the clipboard, counting everyone that looks in the direction of some POS. Audience Monitoring can even tell you the gender and the age of the consumer. I’ve even seen it employed in digital screens to control the content, supplying the most appropriate ad to the audience that are watching at that time. 
All of the above, and other technologies besides, will provide data to analyse, but none are going to give you absolute success; the exact number of people that notice your material. NFC and QR require a compatible device and for the consumer to perform an action. It goes without saying that not everyone will do that. Beacons require a specific app and Bluetooth to work and Audience Monitoring would be very expensive to add to every poster or banner in your campaign. 
Despite these limitations, the information these technologies generate is invaluable. Relative success is just as useful to understanding how a campaign has performed and how it can be improved next time around. Why did twice as many people tap an NFC chip in store A vs store B? Was it due to a position? Different type of creative? Or was it just that the audience in that area are more inclined to do so? We can set benchmarks for success. We can provide feedback to our clients on how well their campaigned has performed, relative to previous activity. This information can then be used to enhance and improve what comes next. And after all, isn’t this the point of generating data in the first place?
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