MWC - Retail highlights


MWC - Retail highlights

Rafe Blandford

Retailers continue to be key players at Mobile World Congress. Rafe Blandford, Strategy Director at Digitas reports on some of the key trends in this competitive space.

Mobile World Congress provided further evidence of the retail industry’s move to multi-channel retail, where bricks and mortar retailers are embracing digital, and pure-play e-commerce retailers are looking for physical presence.

Mango had a presence on Vodafone’s stand, with an installation of its in-store mirror. The mirror is armed with barcode scanner and touchscreen that allows customers to explore and request alternative clothes while in the changing room. While the concept is not new (we created one for Macy’s in New York in 2010), it has matured into a product that is today being deployed operationally.

Following the Spanish connection, Zara was featured as one of the early adopters of Wide Eyes’s image recognition solution. Its AI-based system is specifically trained to recognise fashion products and accessories. This is a multi-channel technology, used in-store to help staff to identify products and used online, in retail sites and apps, to allow customers to identify fashion items from images, and search for similar products. 

Physical retailers and mall owners are only too aware that visitors to their sites spend a good deal of time on their phones in unhelpful ways — whether they are distracted by social media or, worse, “showrooming” by looking up the products they find in store to see whether they can find them more cheaply online. Ways to integrate shoppers’ mobile use into the physical experience are, therefore, always attractive.

LiPhy was showing off its visible light communication (VLC) system. You can add a $100 controller to most common LED lights to make the light broadcast an ID invisible to the naked eye. This ID can be read by a smartphone’s camera; the upshot is that customers can wave their phones in front of products or window displays and receive whatever information you want to show them, as well as giving the retailer a log of such activity.

Pole Star indoor positioning was also showing off its technology — in fact, MWC’s Gran Fira venue is one of their clients — that allows high quality indoor navigation and localised offers. Although the mobile operating systems continue to work on building this capability into their phones (using latent GPS, WiFi mapping, accelerometer and camera data), systems like Pole Star’s that use fixed, low-cost beacons remain more accurate and mature. 

Pantheon Pro’s Retail 2.0 product is a complete package for retailer that bundles indoor navigation and positioning with a comprehensive range of other capabilities.

ThinFilm, which provides an end-to-end solution for NFC/QR-code based smart packaging, was showing off its latest products, including a wide range of labels and magnetic NFC tags. Its key innovation is roll-to-roll production of printed NFC tags at an ex-Qualcomm facility, which will substantially lower the costs of tags. This, together with Apple opening up NFC on the iPhone, makes smart tags a realistic proposition on products priced at £20 or more.

In-store analytics also remains a hot topic at MWC as it has been at retail trade shows this year, with providers like Cubelizer offering next-generation actionable analytics using cameras and machine vision.

Rafe Blandford

Rafe Blandford

Chief Product Officer

As Chief Product Officer at Digitas, Rafe leads a blended team of strategy, creative and technology experts, leveraging his extensive mobile knowledge and working with the agency’s clients to help develop mobile strategies and creative solutions.

Prior to joining Digitas in 2014, Rafe was an independent mobile consultant, advising brands including Nokia, Orange and Ericsson on their business strategies. 

Rafe is co-host of mobile technology podcast 361 Degrees, and the founder and editor of the All About Windows Phone and All About Symbian sites, which have a combined reach of more than a million.


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