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Three Superpowers Wearables Can Offer Merchants

19 May 2017

Smartwatches are rising in favour of single purpose devices, giving consumers the ability to run third-party apps from their wrists. These apps are transforming the in-store experience, turning merchants into sales superheroes.

By one estimate, more than 72 million wearables shipped in 2015 globally, up from just 26 million the year before. By 2019 that figure is expected to climb to more than 155 million.[1] But the wearables success story is about more than a surge in volume — smartwatches are rising in favour of single purpose devices, like fitness trackers, giving consumers the ability to run third-party apps from the convenience of their wrists. These apps are transforming the in-store experience, turning once mild-mannered merchants into sales superheroes.

Here are just three “superpowers” that wearables can offer to a retail sales strategy:

Super Speed

The first trailblazer in quickening checkout was the smartphone, and wearables offer a similar capability. The most straightforward superpower from which retailers and customers can benefit is super speed — a dramatic reduction in checkout times. Wearables can be used to make payments at a traditional checkout or with “roaming” clerks carrying portable mobile point-of-sale devices and, in both cases, could shave seconds or even minutes off the checkout process.

Faster checkout is a tremendous advantage for both consumers and merchants and is a key factor in boosting customer loyalty. A shopper with a payment-enabled smartwatch can pay instantly without reaching for a card. In the case of Apple Pay, customers can integrate their loyalty cards automatically as part of the payment and Samsung Pay will offer similar functionality this year. Getting customers out the door in a flash while maintaining their involvement in existing loyalty programs is icing on the cake.


Staff can’t be in all places at once, but leveraging customers’ wearable devices can make it seem like they are. A slight vibration at their wrist can be used to draw a customer’s attention to specific deals or new stock even if no one is available to assist them at that moment.

Bluetooth beacons placed strategically throughout the store can be designed to push messages to smartwatch owners to alert them to deals or other product information as they shop. For the customer, this might be preferable to a smartphone notification, as it would be less of a distraction. As a retailer, you are better served by the customer staying off their smartphone to avoid price shopping online, or “showrooming.”


Perhaps the greatest potential superpower for a retailer would be to know the tastes and wants of their customers. Using wearables to identify customers as they enter and browse the store may allow you to get to know your customers on multiple levels and look to the future through their resulting purchases.

Today, consumer shopping habits and purchase history could be stored on their account and, based on that information, different deals and notifications could be pushed to their device. Some companies are already employing this technology to identify frequent shoppers and pass relevant information to staff in real-time to offer an instantly personalised shopping experience. As the costs of wearables and in-store solutions decrease, this may become more standard fare. A recent study by the Center for Retail Management at Northwestern University showed that while only 12-15 percent of customers are loyal to a single retailer, that cohort is typically responsible for 55-70 percent of total sales for those businesses.[2]

Even if customers opt out of being directly pushed information, retailers can gather anonymized data regarding in-store shoppers that can later be leveraged if the shopper visits the store’s website. This is valuable information, as some retailers have found that shoppers that have already visited their brick-and-mortar store are up to three times more likely to complete a purchase than a solely online shopper.[3]

Looking Ahead

It’s impossible to predict what form wearables will take in the distant future, but it is easy to see that they could become an important part of the retail experience over the next decade. Even as they stand today, wearables serve as a unique identifier, notification device, and secure payment method — making them invaluable in a retail environment.

“In the near-term, not every brick-and-mortar business owner will benefit from all of the capabilities that wearables have to offer, but by capitalising on this technology merchants could drive increased customer loyalty through new shopping experiences,” said Soumya Chakrabarty, Director of Research & Development at Discover Financial Services.

In the years to come, many of the unique features and capabilities of wearable devices will no doubt seem commonplace but, today, merchants leveraging these capabilities will seem like superheroes.

This article is brought to you by Discover Global Network. To find out more about Discover Global Network, visit

Discover Global Network

[1] IDC, “Worldwide Wearables Market Forecast to Grow 173.3% in 2015 with 72.1 Million Units to be Shipped, According to IDC”, June 18, 2015
[2] CRM Trends, Loyalty Programs
[3] Internet Retailer, “The Buzz on Beacons”, April 1, 2015