Empowered by technology consumer expectations are changing fast pushing established retailers to place their bets on tech trends.

A year ago, I was in Barney’s with my husband. We had just exited the elevator to the second floor when our gaze landed on a droll scene unfolding in front of us. A pink-clad little girl had just escaped her parents peripheral view. She was headed toward the digital display on my left. The gamine of knee height arrived in a flash and just as quickly decided to change the image on the display screen. When it refused to interact, the little girl’s gleeful expression melted into utter disillusion.

This child’s touching attempt to swipe a static screen points to an undercurrent rippling through the retail industry.  Would I have dared to touch an in-store display several years ago? No. But today, just like the little girl in Barney’s, I expect digital displays to have some interaction functionality. Why else would they be in reach?

Empowered by technology consumer expectations are changing fast, and established retailers are having a hard time catching up.

This is apparent to me because I sit at the frontier of those who grew up with Internet and those who did not. A consumer at the dawn of the Internet Age, I often feel like a translator in the trenches of the great generational divide.

As a result, I spend a lot of time discussing consumer expectations – especially toward digital. I often hear companies say they want to do something digital to create buzz around their product. But, that’s a short-lived scheme for consumer mindshare. As soon as something more interesting pops up, the consumer moves on.  

Smart companies know technology can offer a competitive advantage. For these companies, the real questions are which technologies and how to integrate them to support the company’s core business strategy.

In this project for Levi’s, I conducted a sweep of digital strategies and tactics in the marketplace. The goal was to understand what companies were testing, what’s been deployed, and why. The why is important because it signals the learnings of the market toward shifting consumer behavior and expectations.  

The presentation began with a few press clippings highlighting notable implementations before diving into the findings.  

At the time, Macy’s, GAP, and Walmart were touting programs permitting shoppers to reserve online and pick up in store. The Container Store took that notion even further by offering curbside pickup and Sears went furthest by green lighting parking-lot returns.

And, Kenzo had found a clever way to turn the spotlight on the brand and a worthy cause by integrating digital into its No Fish No Nothing campaign.  

Meanwhile, Amazon had quietly released a device permitting consumers to bypass the screen all together. Although still in its beta phase, the wand-like tool known as Dash brings a new dynamic to online shopping.

It’s important to understand that technology, like fashion, has its fads. Retailers are rightly wary of this fact. However, consumer adoption of technology has more in common with culture than many give it credit. In this way, technology is related to fashion and tracking trends over time is a valuable foresight exercise.