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A Hotel Is Taking The Pulse of Consumers, Literally. Can Retail Do The Same?

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In the quest for emotional engagement, merchants have long sought to learn what’s in the shopper’s heart. Now they’re finding out, in a heartbeat.

Make that many heartbeats. The international hospitality group AccorHotels is monitoring its guests’ heart rates in an effort to more accurately match them to the types of destinations and adventures that excite them most. Retailers, hopefully, are watching with held breath.

Accor, operator of the Fairmont, Swissôtel and Ibis brands, is tapping into emotional triggers by correlating aspirational images with heart rates. Specifically, it asks members to respond “yes” or “no” to various photos and tracks the results.

It’s not the first brand to use biometrics — combining statistical analysis and biological data. Delta Air Lines, for example, used heart rate monitors on volunteers to track their beats at various high-stress moments during the traveler journey. But how long before retailers do the same? Turns out, some already are, kind of.

Heart, Face, Hands

In the Accor process, members are shown pictures of destinations and activities and the platform, called Seeker, tracks their answers, the time it takes for them to react and how their heart rates change in response to each image.

With these insights, the program completes a detailed profile of the user with the activities and places he or she would most likely love. There is one goal: to offer Accor guests destination suggestions to which they most likely will respond.

Retailers are employing biometrics as well, but focusing more on other parts of their customers.

The California eatery CaliBurger, for instance, has installed facial-recognition technology in ordering kiosks. The software enables the kiosks to recognize members of its rewards program as they approach, activate their loyalty accounts and, based on previous purchases, suggest their favorite menu items. In China, Marriott International is partnering with Alibaba Group to install facial-recognition kiosks at two locations, so guests can check in by simply looking at a screen.

Some merchants are using biotechnology to track the hand movements people make on websites and apps. Doing so enables them to gather thousands of data points, or “behavioral biometrics,” for security purposes or to create profiles that identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices, according to the Seattle Times.

As far as tracking the heart rate, however, few if any retailers are talking about it publicly. But there’s no question the technology is ready and accessible. It exists right in the smart watches, fitness bands and even the earbuds shoppers wear.

I Heart…

Heart rate monitoring would be effective in retail because it tracks the one physical human response that most accurately reflects our emotional reaction to an experience. We generally can’t hide or alter the rates of our hearts, so the responses are objective and accurate, like a love detector.

Think of the uses.

  • • Home Depot or Lowe’s could ask shoppers to view specific DIY products and see how they respond to different colors, materials and even brands.
  • • Macy’s or Zara could gauge how shoppers respond to fashion trends before committing to an inventory purchase, or could test their own private-label lines before committing to their manufacturer.
  • • Kroger and P.F. Chang’s could run new formats, menu items and prepared meal ideas past regular customers or rewards-program members to ascertain what food items would likely get ordered or purchased most, and use the results even to determine specials.

 

In each case, the retailers would be tapping into the underlying emotional triggers that could establish deeper and more mutually beneficial connections.

As retail wades into the biotech future, this prospect of mutual value will indeed loom larger. Shoppers, already aware of how closely they are being tracked, expect something of personal value in return. Even the cofounder of Facebook, Chris Hughes, has suggested compensating consumers for their data in some form.

What will it take?

Trust: Brands will have to convince their customers that the heart rate tracking they gauge is limited to the tests, and will be isolated for those specific uses — not cross-referenced with other data or shared without the customers’ expressed consent.

Impulse: Lifting the shopper’s heart is relatively easy, with the right images. Winning that heart over requires giving it what it wants. If the shopper’s heart skipped at the site of a plush carpet or backless dress, the merchant better deliver it in some form, and fast, even if it’s just an email telling the shopper when and where to find the item.

Romance: Shoppers are smart; they understand brands need to make money. But they also want their brands to be good and to do good. Retailers can reward those who share their heart rates for tests by donating a penny per beat to chosen charities. At a rate of 60 beats per minute, that adds up to a $36 donation per each hour-long session. Or retailers can get creative and donate ounces of food, minutes of hotel stays, etc.

At AccorHotels, the compensation is coming in the form of suggested travel destinations that make hearts flutter, and therefore likely reinforce the bonds between hotel and guests. After all, if a trip to Paris can help a couple fall in love, perhaps it could do the same for a brand and its consumers.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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