Marty McFly’s hoverboard, flying cars and robot gas stations were among some of the technologies predicted in Back to the Future II. Some of the others are now a reality.
Simon Hathaway, Group MD EMEA of Outform – a global innovation agency that provides retail tech solutions for Google, Samsung and Intel – finds the tech predictions in Minority Report and Back to the Future II almost accurate compared to how embedded our lives are in tech today, especially in the retail sector.
“Agencies aren’t asking the right questions,” declared Hathaway in his interview with PMW.
We are living in an expectation economy where brands and marketers are constantly trying to keep up with consumer demand, and the winning key, Hathaway argues, is prioritising convenience by connecting the on and offline worlds, starting with the humble QR code.
“The QR code got reinvented, reinvigorated, resuscitated even, by the pandemic.”
It is a well known fact that the QR code didn’t hit off right away. In fact, it took a disaster as big as the pandemic to resuscitate it back to life. “The problem was it never really took off in the UK because people never really had the training or understood how it was embedded in their mobile devices,” explained Hathaway. “It took a while for Apple and the other big Android brands to embed it into the camera in a way that it was done in Asia. Then the pandemic came and people got used to it very quickly.
“The beautiful thing about it is that it starts a connection with somebody, asks them for data and starts to connect the on and offline worlds.” QR codes are a digital handshake, as viewed by Outform, effortlessly connecting customers to businesses, with 67% of consumers admitting QR codes make their lives easier.
“That idea is absolutely critical because part of the reason why lots of companies are investing heavily in digital is because it's so measurable,” he asserted. “Naively, a lot of brands and retailers measure retail online vs in-store. But the reality is, the transaction is just the transaction. And we all know personally that we hardly ever make a decision without going to multiple places, platforms, devices and locations. But with QR codes, people can make transactions online, instore.”
The data value transaction
“The reality is that whilst everybody else in the world has been talking about experience and ‘Oh, retail has got to be all about experience’. No; it's got to be about utility. It's got to be about convenience, and it's got to be about value,” Hathaway claimed. “We need to demonstrate the value of the physical environment in the total sales process. And the QR code enables us to connect, it becomes a data point, and we can deliver value on that.
“‘Retail has got to be all about experience’. No; it's got to be about utility.”
In the post Apple privacy world, getting access to data is quite hard, but there's a certain level in retail where people are prepared to trade or transact their personal data for a level of convenience and value. The skill is understanding what their data is worth for that value.
“We know that everybody is online in-store because we all go in store with mobile devices. The QR code means that we're all ready to find extra information in store because we've seen it.
“This is the biggest opportunity moving from a world we call unified commerce. It’s not ‘either/or’, it's ‘all/and’. And that's really driven by the mobile device and the QR code enabling us to connect the dots quite comfortably. It enables us to give people data and say this is the value of your physical presence on a high street and this is the value of your physical presence online.”
The metaverse: is it really next?
Simon describes the myriad ways tech can be used in retail to detail stock numbers real-time and improve convenience for both consumer and retailer. When PMW suggests to him that it sounds like a perfect application for a certain, commonly ‘overrated’ tech – the metaverse… he laughs in response.
“The big thing for me is not ‘what's coming next?’, it's actually what we might leave behind.”
“If you think about Minority Report, we've never had the mobile phone at that level, we’re not looking at mobile devices all the time.
“So will it be in glasses? Where will it be? Because ultimately the mobile phone is something we all carry around. It's a kind of mini computer in a handheld device but do we need it? The actual concept of it being a phone is not its primary use anymore. The tyranny of the laptop is, would we have had a laptop or a computer in the factor it's in if we hadn't had a typewriter?”
“How many times do you see something which is a truly new innovation? It's nearly always an evolution of something different. If you can give me a truly unique innovation that's never, ever been done before, I'll happily give you a bottle of champagne, because I don't know one,” Hathaway challenged.
“It’s not just Rishi Sunak making hard choices this Christmas”
Consumers have three budgets: time, money and frustration, Hathaway outlined. As the cost of living rises and consumers' purse strings tighten, money is the key one this quarter.
“There's going to be a lot more competition out there getting people's budgets and as a result of that, there will be lots of people trying to push promotions and get front to mind. But it’s time to start thinking about time as an element to push too. You've got two sets of deadlines: we've always had the last day before Christmas, and now we have the last shipping day.
“Amazon, for example, is fantastically convenient and the service offering is great, but it's the most frustrating thing to search in the world. How do brands and retailers navigate and help people through that process? That is what’s going to be really interesting in this run up because they'll have to navigate those three issues, and technology is a simple way of doing that.”
“Agencies aren’t asking the right questions”
Agencies have great ideas but they don’t know how to deliver them technically, argued Hathaway. “That's the challenge right now,” he said. “A lot of people go, ‘this is really innovative, it's really great’, but they don't know how to make it. Brands want consistency in retail and a consistent experience; very few agencies can actually deliver that.”
He explained that it’s important to ask specifically why somebody is coming in store whilst there is so much information online: “If you deliver something on their mobile device when they are in store, you need to make sure that it's contextually relevant to that moment. That's where so many other agencies fail.
“So that is landing really well in a post-experience economy, one that's now driven by expectation. A customer resets their expectations every time they click a new ‘Buy Now’ button, go into a new store, download a new app: it resets your expectations of value and convenience.
“If you haven't got a ‘Buy Now’ button on your marketing communication, you are missing an opportunity to sell. That's what we are focusing on. We make sure we've got the right insight into that sort of next generation of shopper behavioural insight, grounded in the knowledge of technology and how to deliver with creativity.
“We're living in this expectation economy now, which is really hard to maintain, and we have to continue to push people on that journey.”