Can you speak the language of digitalisation?

16. June 2017, MAXFIVE

Anyone who thinks of bacon when they see the word “beacon” has come to the right place. Our glossary of digital terms explains what technical concepts really mean and why they are so significant for retailers. All we’ll say for now is that it has nothing to do with food.


digitalised world




© adidas

Today we live in a digitalised world – old news, you might say. Our fridges communicate with online stores to tell them when we are about to run out of milk. Our cars arrange the next service with the garage themselves. Our smartphones know everything there is to know about us – and shops and supermarkets have done for a long time, thanks to apps. So what can we expect in the near future? Or put it another way: what will soon make our lives as customers or retailers easier? We present some important concepts and their applications – from A to V.

Augmented reality (AR)

I can see something that you cannot ­– unless you’re using the same app, that is. AR is an extended version of reality created using special glasses or programs. Users see the world as it really is, but also receive additional information. Pokémon Go uses the technology, but AR is also being used more and more often in retailing.


At the start of this year, BMW presented a brand new kind of app that it developed in collaboration with Google. Potential customers can look at life-size versions of certain vehicles, and even open the doors and “touch” the dashboard. This turns buying a car into a revolutionary retail experience. Especially in the modern age, when customers almost always look for information on products before they buy, this is an additional incentive to choose one brand over another.



Beacons are for customers what lighthouses are for sailors. These mini-transmitters guide us step-by-step through supermarkets, past items that are not important to us and on to those we might find attractive. How do they work? Beacons connect to our smartphones via Bluetooth as soon as we enter a store and then exchange information. That enables them to lead us to the shelves where the cola is and not to the cans of Red Bull – because they know about us and our preferences. In turn, this means we can receive personalised offers.


Of course, this only works if we have installed a particular app. Without the app, the beacon cannot connect with our smartphone. Gatwick Airport just outside London recently started using the mini-transmitters for indoor navigation. Even if the GPS signal inside the terminal is weak, these particular beacons never fade.


POS messages are digitally, visually and strategically designed for fast times.

Digital signage

At Hogwarts School, moving images on the walls are part of everyday life. And at BILLA as well.

The supermarket chain was one of the first in Austria to use point-of-sale digital signage. Digital content is shown on screens and electronic posters, enabling rapid and targeted communication with employees and customers, and displays of dynamic content. This is an attractive option in locations where people spend a certain amount of time: in staff rooms, at the deli counter or after choosing the slowest queue at the checkout – again!


Emotional decoding

A customer comes into a store looking exhausted. Ideally, they would be offered an energy drink. Or be notified that coffee is currently on special offer. Not a problem, thanks to emotional decoding. Digital emotional analysis makes use of intelligent facial recognition programs. Software analyses customers’ expressions in real time, enabling it to communicate personalised information – giving the POS more of a personality, so to speak.

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Endless aisle

Imagine you’ve found the right product, but the store doesn’t have it in stock. Annoying, isn’t it? But thankfully we now have the endless aisle. If a product is out of stock at a bricks-and-mortar outlet, customers can order it online in the store and it is delivered to their home a few days late r. Or you can use a tablet mounted on the shelf, which acts as a virtual extension of sales space.


US supermarket chain Walmart is currently testing endless aisles, as one senior manager puts it, in order to “make everyday life easier for families.” And to compete online with Amazon. How much competition remains to be seen…

Omnichannel marketing

2017 is not the year for retailers to focus on a single sales channel. Nobody has just one website. Or only one app. Or a single bricks-and-mortar store. Retailers have all of these, because customers themselves communicate using a variety of channels. Omnichannel marketing is about integrating all of these digital channels in order to create a comprehensive brand experience for customers.


Regardless of how or from where customers access products, everything is linked together and joined seamlessly. By comparison, multi-channel marketing concentrates on each channel individually, leading ultimately to a range of different strategies and experiences.


Virtual reality (VR)

In contrast to augmented reality, VR draws the shutters down on reality altogether, creating brand new worlds with completely new possibilities. For this reason, VR also requires a special headset. It has been used in computer games for some time, and has also been around in retailing for a while now. The North Face, a VR pioneer, sends its customers straight from the store with new equipment to the digital Himalayas. What were we just saying about customer experience again? But VR has other advantages that can be precisely measured, including fewer returns, which results in lower costs. Honestly!

virtual reality

Virtual wall

For anyone who thinks the endless aisle is not futuristic enough, maybe the virtual wall is the answer: a store shelf that only exists digitally. Just imagine a giant touchscreen on which products are arranged as usual, but which otherwise does not have much in common with conventional shelves.


One example comes from Adidas, which unveiled its virtual footwear wall some time ago. It means a wider selection of shoes can be displayed in a smaller space – customers can examine digital shoes from all sides, rotate them through 360° and call up additional information on each model. Of course, customers can only try on real pairs. For now…


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