Sensors and the data they produce are often seen as technical tools. They enable us to get information that can be used to optimize processes, tweak products and maximize sales. At the same time, they can offer more opportunities to create new customer experiences. Sensors and data are important in linking physical and virtual products and experiences to each other. They also present a major opportunity for fashion and consumer brands.
Smart wearables can, of course, produce some data and charts for your mobile apps. The data is displayed as numbers and charts, which is exciting to some people who find them useful. But we can easily do so much more with the same sensors and data, and we can easily imagine some totally feasible product scenarios.
Let’s say you have a sports t-shirt and running shoes that measure your movement, heart rate, temperature, and sweat when you are running.
When you return from your run, rather than just having a chart with vital signs and measurements on it, you could also have instructions on what to do next. How much you should drink based on your body temperature, the length of the run, and sweat rate? How much rest should you have? Should you do some treatment for your muscles based on the data that shows how running impacted your different muscles and tiredness? When would it be optimal to make a similar run again? How much should you eat and what?
Okay, exercising and sports is an easy example, since we’re already seeing some better data-based services in that space. Let’s consider something different.
Sensors in sauna towels and handbags
I come from Finland, where the sauna is a serious thing. So let’s think about sensors in your sauna towel, and the data collected from your sauna towel and your wearables device.
How was your sauna or bath experience? What was the temperature setting in the sauna you just sat in, and for how long? What was the humidity? How was your heart rate? When you collect this kind of data, an app or service could learn what kind of sauna or bath experience is the most relaxing for you, and when you should go to the sauna to get the best sleep.
Here’s another example: when you buy an expensive Prada or Hermes handbag or jacket, wouldn’t it be nice to get data from it and learn more about it and yourself? You can get basic reports such as whether the temperature and humidity level in your home is optimal for the material your luxury item is made from. How often and when do you use it? How do you feel when you use it – is your heart rate, stress and concentration typically better or worse than normal in your daily life? And do you typically use it at home, work or when you travel? When you bring it with you to a party, were there any other similar products there?
Based on this information, your product could give you some new ideas on how and where to use it.
Better experiences matter
These are just some simple ideas, all of which are technologically possible today. Many of us carry wearables that measure our body activities and vitals all the time. Modern sensors can measure e.g., movements, location, forces, temperature, humidity, and light pressure. We’re already seeing new, better sensors released into the market all the time. The prices of the sensors range from a few cents to several dozen dollars. And technically, it is not difficult to add them to products.
The challenge and the opportunity is in collecting the data, managing it and finding good ways to use it.
A key challenge here is understanding how users feel about this. This is fundamental. Companies and brands must understand that from the consumer’s point of view, these products are basically used to spy on them and collect data from them. Consequently, they’re unlikely to buy them unless there’s value in it for them.
Most people understand that internet data giants collect tons of data from them in exchange for useful services that makes use of that data. But users also have little choice in the matter. Between surveys and Apple’s new privacy settings, we know now that when given the choice, people aren’t willing to give away their data. People are becoming more skeptical about data collection from smart IoT products, whether they’re wearables or home appliances. The same will be true of luxury brand products.
Sensors and data can elevate the consumer experience
However, this doesn’t mean companies and brands should just forget about sensors and data. Again, the key is whether the consumer sees value in owning a brand product that collects data from them. This is where the opportunity lies – delivering that value to customers, in the form of new, engaging services that offer a different and useful brand experience. A combination of physical and virtual product components can often offer a better experience and value than only one of each.
Some brands are already thinking about how more data and new customer experiences can elevate their relationship with their physical products. One example is the ethical and ecological chain to make and distribute the product. Some brands offer tags (bar codes, RFIDs, or other labels) that enable you to see where the material of the product comes from, where it has been manufactured (and the labor conditions in that factory) and how it was transported to you.
This all is important, and a good start. But why stop there? Why focus only on the time before the consumer gets the product? It is just the beginning of the customer experience. We can also think of ways to use data to offer experiences throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Re-think the role of data
To make the most of new opportunities via sensors and data, consumer companies probably need to re-think their internal processes and organizations to enable new and better ways to use both.
Sensors and data have been now mainly linked to manufacturing, supply chains and marketing. Some companies, especially wearables and sport tech companies, have made sport and health applications. But this is quite a narrow way to looking at the opportunities that sensor-driven data can create.
Data and virtual services are going to disrupt the way we build user experiences for physical products. But it requires some re-thinking and re-organizing from brands to get it work. And, again, it is also fundamental to see customer data as something that belongs to the customer. It is not just a way to optimize the company’s business – it is a tool to empower the customer and help them get more value and better experiences.
The fashion brand market is now very fragmented, and most brands are really looking for new ways to be unique. This will be one very important area where brands can offer more to their customers and justify better prices and margins.