In recent years, retail has undergone a radical transformation. Where merchants used to focus on selling their goods, now it’s all about customer engagement. Just as omnichannel marketing can create more fully integrated customer interactions, linking online, mobile and in-person experiences, blockchain offers an opportunity to build new points of connection between brands and consumers.

Information drives engagement

By providing transparent and exhaustive access to information, blockchain and distributed ledger technology can be used to enhance customer engagement. Personalized communications that adapt based on channel will certainly create new ways to present offers and information to consumers, but customers also want access to information on their terms. Imagine that all stages of a product’s lifecycle were to be stored in a blockchain record. Consumers could access that record to get information about the product. For items of clothing, consumers could learn about the processes used in manufacturing the cloth, or the conditions under which the garment was manufactured. For food products, consumers could determine whether a product was produced locally, access ingredient information, or be assured that items haven’t been exposed to allergens at any stage in the production process. One platform that provides this type of information is Shping, which lets customers access data by scanning product barcodes with their smartphones. Access to these records and information about a product’s lifecycle dramatically reduce the chances that counterfeit items will reach store shelves, thus improving consumer confidence.[1]

Tokens as rewards

Consumers are already well-versed with the idea that purchases can earn them rewards, and platforms like Shping reward customers with tokens. Compared to traditional retail rewards programs, tokens offer many advantages. Most importantly, they give consumers the opportunity to redeem their rewards at multiple retailers. On some platforms, such as, in addition to tokens, customers can earn cash back for making purchases. Retailers can also use smart contracts to personalize the rewards that customers receive, based on purchase history, completing customer surveys, or visiting a new location.

Consumers control their data

Data is central to the retailer-customer relationship. Customers have long been asked to provide personal information for marketing and advertising purposes, but recent well-publicized data breaches have made many reluctant to continue offering up their data. In addition, GDPR has shut down many existing data paths. Blockchain offers a solution to both problems. Data stored on the blockchain is inherently secure, and distributed ledger technology lets customers maintain control over their information.

Shopin is a platform that uses customer data to create shopper profiles, which retailers then access to improve e-commerce and in-store customer experiences. Users can visit a website and retain control of their own data. Customers’ privacy would be maintained as well, since retailers wouldn’t see the data. Instead, merchants would have access to an AI-powered recommendation about what the customer wants, based on the customer’s data and shopping history. Deeper dives into customer data could power much more effective retailer-customer relationships. Ultimately, a distributed ecosystem could result in users having an Amazon-like shopping experience where a range of products from both online and physical inventories are presented, with personalized items based on the customer’s individual profile.[2]

Blockchain and the supply chain

Applying blockchain to the supply chain has the power to transform retail. Blockchain allows for efficient data collection and analysis, and machine learning creates a functional structure for the information generated. Data from the supply chain can be used to track inventory, leading to more accurate and timely stocking of goods, which in turn generates higher levels of customer satisfaction. More precise inventory control can also reduce waste and lower costs, leading to savings which can be passed on to consumers. Blockchain-powered visual artificial intelligence can also be used to track what customers are looking at in stores, and this information, when fed back into the supply chain, can result in faster and more efficient delivery of goods. Finally, blockchain can ensure that supply chain and logistics data remains secure.[3]

Major retailers such as Walmart, American Express, and Starbucks are already incorporating blockchain technology into their retail, rewards, and supply chain processes and we may soon see the day when every retail transaction is confirmed by a smart contract.[4] Blockchain and distributed ledger technology will impact nearly every facet of retail, and consumers will benefit from lower costs, increased security and safer products.