Nick Fearnley, SVP of Merchandising Technology
In the retail industry, customer experience determines whether a sale is won or lost; a great experience makes consumers cherish the brand and stay loyal to it. In an effort to achieve this, today’s brick and mortar retailers have recognized the importance of creating an interactive digital in-store experience for buyers. Static and digital activations, in-store personalization elements, and smart POS displays are some of the modern merchandising solutions at the disposal of retailers now. Crafting a captivating experience, however, requires choosing the right display technology, having an effective data-gathering strategy, and implementing precise analytics solutions. Additionally, retail firms need to look at different content formats as well as several independent content management platforms to make the experience engaging.
Oftentimes, while making these choices between several technologies, retailers exercise a speculative “testing” approach. Each technology is measured discretely in terms of performance, reliability, ease of operation and integration, behavioral influence, and sales. “And, this is where most of the great ‘flagship’ and promising POC initiatives stall,” explains Nick Fearnley, SVP of merchandising technology at Integrated Merchandising Solutions (IMS)—a leading MerchTech company. Elaborating the reason, he notes, even though these technologies are tested in silos, they would not be running independent of one another in the real world. Thus, rendering a successful pilot incapable of being deployed at scale.
IMS seamlessly helps retailers mitigate these challenges. “We are seeing a lot of focus on understanding the customer and personalization at scale. It is essential to understand how the technologies fit into retail businesses,” comments Fearnley. And IMS’s expertise in it has led the company to represent leading brands at the point of purchase—in-store, online, and behind the scenes—including digital and traditional signage, print and POP, branded merchandise, and more. The company’s MerchTechTM (Merchandising Technology) team help answer the critical questions around how in-store solutions can and should be integrated. To this extent, IMS’s team of experts helps assess client goals, security concerns, technology integrations, and sourcing strategy. The company’s unique platform-agnostic MerchTechTM solutions enable its clients to create the perfect brand message. The company’s API platform makes it easy for clients to integrate with a vast array of technologies and collect, aggregate, and report data from a multitude of data feeds.
The data feed flows both ways: from sending instructions to screens for displaying contextual and relevant content to collecting customer behavior and demographic data to support further analysis, insight, and evolution of the deployment strategy. “Starting with a deep understanding of the requirements and marketing objectives, our team helps a client in choosing the right display, optical sensors, and CMS as well as develop the business logic and rules that control the in-store experience,” mentions Fearnley. The result of such an approach is digitalized in-store tools that not only looks great but also performs efficiently.
Today, what makes IMS one of a kind is its extensive experience in traditional marketing combined with an integrated technology approach. Founded in 1985, IMS has been working with brands and retailers to ensure that they can optimize traditional marketing execution at scale. While the first 30 years of IMS had focused on the implementation of more conventional displays, the company always maintained an integrated approach toward technology. As a result, when IMS decided to venture deeper into in-store technology, it already had the backbone of systems and an enterprise data warehouse. This enabled IMS to drive better business logic and insights.
We are seeing a lot of focus on understanding the customer and personalization at scale. It is essential to understand how the technologies fit into retail businesses
Highlighting how this extensive know-how benefits IMS’s clients, Fearnley shares a recent success story of IMS, where the company has helped an international health and beauty retailer deploy a digital solution across their network of over 9,000 stores. IMS was tasked with moving the digital initiatives of the client forward and enabling better usage of the existing technology assets. The core idea was to provide workflow and toolsets for helping marketing and IT teams facilitate this experience at scale. In addition, the client wanted to directly communicate high-level marketing strategies with the team and understand how to interpret the strategy for developing and deploying solutions digitally. IMS started by analyzing the client’s ongoing initiatives to evaluate the operational model and see how it could technically combine them while also defining roles and responsibilities. Once the initial implementation strategy was defined, IMS leveraged its experienced team to deploy the right technical solutions. Additionally, the company ensured the entire solution was integrated end-to-end to provide governance, workflow, and automation to combine the client’s technical and marketing teams (both internal and third-party) to deliver a truly cohesive and transformative customer experience.
While many such successful collaborations have helped IMS carve out a niche of its own, Fearnley believes it is just the beginning of the journey. He opines that as more environmental data around retail locations becomes readily available and syndicated, brands and retailers will want to use information about weather, traffic, competitive reaction, out-of-home (OOH) advertisements, and other information to help upgrade the in-store experience. “Over the next few years, we’ll see an increasing focus on APIs and standards to assist with this, and IMS is poised to take the lead in helping retail companies achieve their feat,” opines Fearnley. To do so, IMS is also developing its Meridian platform, which Fearnley dubs as “a platform of platforms.” Meridian can bring together a multitude of data feeds, systems, and assets and enable a collaborative and cohesive workflow from ideation to delivery. “Our technology team is hard at work to make that very simple to do. Stay tuned!” concludes Fearnley.