Shopping goes high-tech

QR codes and apps now give shoppers access to information and membership privileges instantly.

How often do you find yourself frustrated at a shop because the sales assistant is taking forever to search for the size of dress or shoes you want or to track down its availability at other outlets?

That is a problem Ms Lisa Crosswhite, founder and chief executive officer of fashion retailer Gnossem, aims to solve at her stores, Gnossem, at 66 Kampong Bugis, and the two-month-old Chi Chi Von Tang, at Scotts Square.

Tagging each piece of merchandise with its own QR code means shoppers can simply scan the code with their mobile devices and receive information about the product, such as what sizes and colours are available and at which outlet, within seconds.

Ms Crosswhite, a 28-year-old permanent resident, says: “We created this technology to solve very practical problems. It is hard to get store staff to know enough information about every product and we wanted to make it easy for customers to find such information.”

We created this technology to solve very practical problems. It is hard to get store staff to know enough information about every product and we wanted to make it easy for customers to find  such information.

MS LISA CROSSWHITE, founder and chief executive officer of fashion retailer Gnossem, which tags its products with QRcodes, allowing shoppers to scan for information

Gnossem is among a handful of retailers here which are harnessing technology, such as QR codes and mobile apps, to enhance the shopping experience at brick-andmortar stores.

At 313@somerset, shoppers with the mall’s Tring313 mobile app receive notifications about special promotions and events when they are within 500m of the mall.

At luxury brand Louis Vuitton, customers with its LV Pass app can scan selected store window visuals featuring the Louis Vuitton Pass icon and information about products featured in the visual, for example, will pop up on their mobile screen. The app was launched in 2013.

Retailers say these high-tech features are essential to engage the modern consumer.

Mr Christopher Kilaniotis, South Asia president of Louis Vuitton, says: “Twenty years ago, luxury brands advertised and people queued. It is no longer like that. Clients today get information through the Web and digital applications, so luxury branding is a multi- sensory experience.

The brand is holding its digitally immersive Series 3 exhibition at the South Crystal Pavilion at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Using videos and digital screens, it showcases the creative process behind the brand’s recent ready-to- wear women’s collection by creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere.

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of the retail management course at Temasek Polytechnic’s business school, highlights the importance of retailers having a digital presence on mobile devices and tablets through apps, for example.

He says: “Shoppers are searching for more market information through the digital channel for comparison shopping. As such, retailers ought to place themselves in the digital network.”

Based on a January study done by the Singapore branch of global social media agency We Are Social, 28 per cent of the country’s 5.47-million population used a mobile phone to research a product to buy, with 23 per cent making a purchase after that.

To appeal to these digital-savvy shoppers, retailers engage companies such as home-grown technology firms Sprooki and Quantum Interactive to develop special apps which go beyond providing just shopping directories.

Sprooki helped develop the Tring313 location-based app – the first of its kind in Asia when it launched in November 2012.

Set up in 2011, Sprooki is one of the leading pioneer technology companies in the Asia-Pacific region that employs location- service technology for retail applications.

Its co-founder, Mr Michael Gethen, 52, says: “Consumers want a personalised and relevant experience, and location-service technology offers a full shopping experience that is more than just discounts and coupons.

“Many retail companies are moving towards mobile solutions. You will see more of these in the coming year, with features such as rewards programmes and loyalty points.” Sprooki is working with Far East Retail and Asia Mall.

As of Dec 1, Tring313 had close to 46,000 downloads. Ms Cheryl Goh, 36, general manager of 313@somerset, says there has been a significant increase in sales and customer traffic in the mall because of the app, but declined to share figures.

She says: “The app helps to generate sales and the response has been positive and we will continue to enhance it.” For example, there are plans to sync the app with the mall’s Club313 loyalty programme, which is on a separate website, Club313.com.sg.

Suntec City also has its own mobile app, Suntec City, which was launched in mid-July. Its Suntec Rewards programme allows shoppers to scan their shopping receipts with the app to collect points, which they can then use to redeem e-vouchers. They can also check out exclusive deals and discounts via the app’s Flash Sale section.

Ms Jennifer Yii, 42, chief executive of Quantum Interactive, the digital marketing and technology company that developed the Suntec City app, says 17,000 people have registered and downloaded the app since the Suntec Rewards programme was launched on Oct 23.

She says: “Suntec Rewards saw an increasing submission of receipts and members’ spending across various categories month on month. Specifically, we see 65 per cent of members’ spending in the retail category, versus food and beverage and supermarket.”

With such data collected, she says that Quantum Interactive is able to help retailers better understand “shoppers’ conversion rate and movement within the store, which, in turn, helps the store improve campaigns and visual merchandising”.

She adds that the information can also be used to better tailor events and promotions to different groups of shoppers.
Ms Crosswhite is using her digital know-how to improve her customers’ in-store experience.

She launched Gnossem as an online shop about 31/2 years ago. She decided to open physical stores this year because more people were buying the clothes at pop-up shops that she set up than online.

She says: “What I want to do with the physical space is to keep experimenting – how we can blend online and offline seamlessly.”

One example of this is a new service, called Fitting Basket, that will be launched on New Year’s Day on Gnossem.com. It allows online shoppers to add items to their online basket and then select a date and time to try them at Gnossem’s physical store in Kampong Bugis or Chi Chi Von Tang at Scotts Square.

Ms Crosswhite says: “They can decide, ‘I want to try this and this on Friday during my lunch hour’ and they can come to the store to try them.”

The service is available free for three months from Jan 1. Both the QR code and Fitting Basket features were coded in-house. Ms Crosswhite declined to share how much was invested in them.

Shoppers generally like such digital initiatives. Ms Wendy Ng, 35, who is self-employed, uses the Suntec City app.

She says: “I find the app quite easy to use and it generally makes shopping at the mall more enjoyable. I use it mainly to redeem points off my purchases.”

Mr Samuel Wong, 27, who works as a producer, agrees.

“It is definitely more convenient to redeem points using my mobile phone as opposed to queueing at the mall’s information counter,” he says.

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, an associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, thinks it is a good idea for retailers to embrace digital technology.

He says: “Anything that enhances the in-store experience and can potentially extend that in-store interactivity to a 24/7 setting would be welcomed by customers and is a worthwhile marketing investment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Shopping goes high-tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe