Published on in RetailInnovation

It’s an interesting time for wearable technology right now.

Fitness trackers, the most popular form of consumer wearable device, had a promising start. But now it’s being reported that ‘the spectacular explosive growth that we anticipated hasn’t really occurred.’

And Gartner released this statement at the end of 2016 saying that high abandonment rates among users in the UK, US and Australia (30%) mean that wearable devices need to be more useful if they will be adopted en masse.

One place they are useful is in retail.  Wearables can improve employee wellbeing and enhance customer experience through a constant loop of optimisation; as they collect and analyse user data in real time, they can play a crucial, game-changing role in reactive improvement of user experience.

Let’s take a look at what some of those improvements could look like…

Taking care of the people who matter

Employee safety is paramount in any business, but I think it is particularly crucial for teams working on the shop floor.

The Travelers Injury Impact Report reveals the most frequent cause of retail workplace injury is material handling (37%). This figure could be reduced with a wearable that tracks employee exertion level and ensures nobody is pushing themselves too hard.

And it’s not just about taking care of your employees. It’s also a way of making them feel valued, because they can see their wellbeing is a priority.

Plus, looking after your workers means they’ll be better equipped to provide a good service to the consumers in the store – so it’s beneficial to this side of the business too.

Building a consumer-centric business

It’s not just in the work lives of employees that wearable tech can be useful. Giving wearables to consumers, or connecting with the ones they already own, could enable the ultimate customer experience.

This is ideal for retail, since the cornerstone of the industry is the in-store experience (something I’ve written about in more detail here).

Wearables collect data that can be used to personalise the consumer experience as soon as they walk in the door.

Imagine a clothing store. When someone comes in their wearable can send data on their size, style and budget to the shop assistant, who can then direct them to the clothes that will suit them or order something from the stockroom that they might like.

And the wearable can even overlay images of the clothes the individual already owns, so that they can see if an item they are interested in buying matches what they already have.

This is just a basic example of the way wearables will revolutionise the retail experience. There are certainly many more complex and exciting operations to be uncovered (and we’re exploring this currently in our wearables campaign).

Co-creating for the best consumer experience

Using wearables to develop the best retail experience will require a partnership between tech companies and their customers. After all, the only way of really knowing what the consumer wants is to ask the organisations who sell to them.

As my colleague Graeme Wright explores in this blog post about the use of MagicBands at Disney World, the brilliance of wearable devices is their versatility. One device can fulfil a multitude of functions, holding information about a person’s preferences, events they have booked into, the amount of credit in their account, etc.

But we can only find new ways to employ wearables by applying them in a practical environment. This is why co-creation here is key.

Another thing we can learn from the Disney example is the huge potential for large-scale spaces like shopping malls or adventure parks to benefit from wearable technology.

Companies who provide consumers with a wearable during their visit can drive a fully immersive tailor-made experience. Visiting a waterpark, for example, would be made a much better experience with a wearable to handle payments during your time there. This hassle-free element alone would vastly improve your experience, even before the personalisation and user identification.

The time is right for wearable tech

Wearables show great promise, but we’re still in the phase before mainstream adoption. This means there’s huge opportunity for retail businesses who take up wearables now. Using the insight from wearable data, you can build a truly consumer-centric business – the retail sector’s holy grail. Plus there are huge benefits for employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

For this reason I disagree with reports claiming that now is not the right time for wearables. We don’t need to wait until wearables become more useful. We just need to get better at using them – especially in the retail industry.

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