Consumers like shops but want them ‘smarter’

Retail brands need to do more so that their online presence lives up to the relationship they have established with consumers via bricks and mortar outlets in shopping malls and high streets, says Carson McKelvey, managing partner at Tofugear Ltd, a consultancy on “digital transformation” for retailers, which is based in San Po Kong, Kowloon.


Mr McKelvey was speaking at “Retail’s Cutting Edge”, a strand of the StartmeupHK Festival 2018, an initiative of the Hong Kong government’s InvestHK agency. The festival explored how the digital technology sector has been –and still is – transforming traditional business activities in Hong Kong and beyond.


“Today, worldwide, there are 2.3 billion smartphone users: literally more than one-third of the world’s population,” noted Mr McKelvey. “In Hong Kong, the penetration of smartphones is something like 170 percent… that means the average Hong Konger has more than one device… Yet when we did a study, we found that only 24 percent of retailers today – in Hong Kong it might be less – actually have a mobile strategy,” he stated.


Citing information from Digital Commerce 360, a research outfit, the Tofugear executive suggested that globally on average, 75 percent of customers use a mobile device in-store for activities such as price comparison and social media communication with peers on product type and quality.Despite this research indicator, “only 5 percent of retailers were engaging customers on social media while the customer was in the store,” said Mr McKelvey.


His firm offers retailers what it terms “connected retail” via a combination of a more effective strategy regarding customer data; and access to insights that then empower retailers to improve their business.


One of the company’s services, called Tofugear Omnitech uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tag and wireless Bluetooth technology to enable many interaction points in a retail store, including what his company describes as a “connected fitting room”. With such technology, RFID tags on the merchandise can identify what clothes a customer has taken into a fitting area, and used in concert with other technology, such as so-called “smart mirrors”, can relay information to the customer such as alternative sizes for an item.


RFID can also be used with so-called “smart shelves”. In that case, an RFID reader can monitor what’s on the shelf, communicate with the back office to notify of the need for fresh stock, or identify if an item has been incorrectly stored on a particular shelf.


“When we talk about digital commerce, we are not just talking about E-commerce. What we are really talking about is the way that digital tools – whether they be in-store or other things online… social media… are all digital platforms that contribute to retail,” stated Mr McKelvey.