There is no candidate more suitable to the disruption of the retail industry than blockchain, which is notorious for altering dynamics between individuals and entities regardless of the purpose for doing so. Where the internet layers the path between brands and customers with several intermediaries, blockchain delivers a resoundingly better deal. Robust decentralized networking capabilities, plus the ability to motivate certain behavior with cryptocurrencies and tokens, means that brands can bypass middlemen and motivate customers to volunteer the information most valuable to them. More than a few companies are putting this new infrastructure to the test in the retail sector, and the best of them will help customers and brands benefit simultaneously from the new status quo.

Wrecking Retail Barriers

Escaping traditional data-based advertising strategies means finding a connection to customer data that isn’t stratified by entrenched go-betweens, which invariably drive up costs and obfuscate campaign analytics to perpetuate their dominant model. Usually, obtaining access to customer behavioral analytics isn’t possible from sources that don’t originate with Google or Facebook. Forget that these data monopolies push irrelevant key performance indicators and obfuscate the most relevant results. They also don’t allow shoppers to be directly targeted in a retail environment even though the vast volume of money still moves through brick and mortar businesses and not eCommerce.

One of the toughest skills to achieve, and what represents the pinnacle of advertising prowess, is the ability to target shoppers while they’re physically in the aisle. Not before they get to the store, or after, but the chance to alter their perception of products while in front of them. Brands can get close to this plateau by employing location-based advertising services, but for reasons of price and accuracy, this isn’t always the most effective option. Fortunately, companies using blockchain to build innovative, retail-facing services can address these weaknesses comprehensively.

Shping users, for example, can earn cryptocurrency coins for scanning product barcodes with a blockchain-connected mobile application. With the app, they can learn more about the products they’re buying and add value to the ecosystem by writing reviews, giving more detailed product descriptions, learning about sourcing of ingredients, recent product recalls, active promotions and more. With users motivated to ‘shping’ as they shop, brands have a new channel that they can deploy to promote themselves. Now, advertisers can reach shoppers as they peruse a dizzying variety of goods, and help inform their decisions in real time. Information on product authenticity and origin are also obtainable. Moreover, Shping finally allows brands to gain inexpensive access to data on customer demographics, location, preferences, and past campaign interactions. The platform is all about mutual benefits, and smart, relevant marketing to shoppers who have an interest in seeing ads.

Other platforms promote healthier retail dynamics and sustainability as well, such as Nucleus Vision, which uses an IoT-based blockchain to identify who the customers are that walk into any store. Using ION Sensors installed in retail stores, brands can engage with customers that are within the immediate vicinity of their products at any time, without using any applications, RFID or Bluetooth connectivity required. Developed at Harvard, Nucleus Vision is one of the lightest-weight, least adoption-dependent blockchain retail tools available. Blockchain is permeating through all sectors of the retail industry, not just in-store targeting. A pertinent example comes courtesy of Incent, an Australian marketing leader that helps brands incentivize specific customer behavior online. Instead of IoT sensors or a barcode scanner, however, the company pays INCNT tokens to users who allow their browser extension to gather data while they conduct their online shopping.

Revolutions Take Time

While these platforms are propagated by new marketing models that inflate the bottom line and offer greater accuracy, customers must be able to benefit in the same manner. While blockchain is the only technology that can offer this dual-edged utility, it still takes some skill to create a decentralized engagement platform that’s good enough to stand the test of time. The first entrants have a head start, and the architectures they’re building so far are encouraging. What’s required now is participation, meaning the companies which have now successfully launched an ICO will be using their funding to spread the word.

However, just as shoppers show preference to the products that suit their lifestyles, they will also join the blockchain platforms that cater to their needs best. The race to revolutionize retail is on, but though the starting gun has sounded, it may take years for the new retail services sector’s winner to establish a qualifiable lead.