What retailers can learn from museum apps
By Carlene Thomas Bailey

From conversational commerce to virtual reality, retailers can learn a lot from the latest museum apps to improve their consumer’s digital experience.

Oct 13, 2016
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conversational commerce
2 min
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In this month’s Atlantic magazine, there’s a story about how museums are finally embracing our digital, selfie-obsessed culture, by working with consumers who are attached to their phones rather than telling them to please switch off their devices. The article called ‘Please Turn On Your Phone in the Museum‘ got us thinking that maybe there are some key takeaways that retailers can learn from these museum institutions. Let’s face it, museums are facing the same challenges as traditional brick and mortar retailers. As Sree Sreenivasan, the former chief digital officer for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art said in the article, the museum’s biggest competitor was not just other museums but the digital world, “It’s Netflix. It’s Candy Crush.” And for retailers you simply need to replace Netflix with Amazon, Asos, Argos and Net-a-Porter. So how can traditional retailers compete in this digital space, and what they can learn from the way museums are embracing tech?

Conversational Commerce

The Brooklyn Museum’s app called ASK lets visitors ask curators questions in real time and chat about the artwork they see. This is an interesting model and one that is slowly being introduced into the traditional retail world. Earlier this year at our WGSN Futures conference in London, we heard from Adam Levene, founder of app HERO which is leading the field of conversational commerce. The app allows retail staff based in store to respond to online shoppers who might want to know if that branch has their size in store for example. Then there’s the Nordstrom app Textstyle which launched last year and “is a seamless, secure way for customers to make curated purchases from their salesperson or personal stylist using text messaging”. This online and offline relationship is one that retailers are desperate to make more seamless and conversational commerce is a huge growth area.

Virtual Reality (VR)

The British Museum embraced Samsung Gear VR headsets last summer working to transport visitors back to the Bronze Age. The event was a huge consumer and marketing success and we are seeing similar things in the world of retail with Tommy Hilfiger embracing headsets in store. But while the retail consumer doesn’t want to be transported to beach and see their swimming trunks in action, they do want to see how a dress might fit without having to enter a stressful and sweaty changing room in store. That’s why we’re seeing early tech adopting retailers like Rebecca Minkoff reduce the floor space offered to mannequins and invest in connected walls in their fitting rooms, which talk to shop assistants and digitally display even more stock.

VR also offers hope when it comes to the issue of footfall and stock. The latest buzz term in retail is the potential of the ‘endless aisle’ where retailers can show off their full product line via VR headsets, so it looks like a retail warehouse brought to life.

Sitemaps and GPS

Depending on the size of a museum, it can be like navigating around a huge department store, overwhelming and a little confusing at times. So it’s interesting then that in San Francisco The de Young Museum has teamed up with the local start-up tech team at Guidekick to create The de Young Museum app. The app works with Apple’s indoor positioning technology to help you navigate the way round, highlight specific art work and track visitor paths. The app is available for the Apple Watch and iPhone. Similarly, we are seeing big business retailers work to improve the in-store experience, Macy’s made the retail headlines this summer, as it announced it had teamed up with IBM Watson on an app, which will make it easier for shoppers to navigate their way around and find key items in store.

Data Breadcrumbs

While not technically an app, over at the Science Museum in London the current exhibition Our Lives in Data explores the idea of data breadcrumbs, wi-fi and how consumer information is tracked. While the Atlantic article explains that some museums, like New York’s Whitney museum have played with using wi-fi to display personal data back to the visitors as part of the exhibition. Wi-fi presents an interesting idea for retailers, as many have made the move to offer free, in-store wi-fi. Innovative retailers are now using data breadcrumbs they’ve collected to make the consumer retail experience more personal. We’ve seen how retailers like Topshop and Very.co.uk are using data to see when shoppers are most engaged and therefore changing their opening times, as well as personalising their retail e-commerce sites.

As it becomes ever more important to increase consumer and visitor footfall, as well as build engagement it will be interesting to see what these two worlds of museum culture and traditional retail can keep teaching each other.

Like this? Check out our blog on the rise of museum retail outposts.

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