The title of this article has nothing to do with the Canadian electronics shop chain. It’s a not so subtle play on the concept of “future shock” — the term used to describe our reaction to “too much change in too short a period of time”. And our shopping experience is definitely undergoing an enormous change that will only rise exponentially further on.
Thus every long- or even mid-term prediction risks becoming a bit of a parody — like those French postcards from the beginning of the XX century trying to peek into the year 2000. The one below, however, has some truth to it, which we’ll see later in the article.
It may sound counter-intuitive but offline shopping isn’t going nowhere. Millennials spend more money on the experiences than on anything else, and they want to get superior brick-and-mortar experience. Even online monopolist Amazon opens more and more offline stores, and definitely does it for a reason.
So let’s try and outline 10 innovations in retail that will shape our offline shopping experience in the nearest future.
No checkout counters, no queues, no shoplifting
The concept of self-checkout isn’t new, but Amazon has definitely breathed a new life into it on December 5th, 2016, introducing Amazon Go Store. There, you’re just going to present the barcode on your phone to a sensor, take what you need, and just walk out — you’ll be billed through your Amazon. But that’s more to it! With the help of the most advanced technologies, Amazon will be able to “detect a product that is not only missing from the shelves, being held in your hands, put into a bag, or even under a shirt”. Hard times for the shoplifters are coming!
This March, Wal-Mart filed a patent for drones that will locate and deliver goods to customers within the store. Some may find it silly, though this concept has the definite advantages to it: as the US regulations disallow drones flight beyond the line of sight or in densely populated areas, it sounds more realistic than Amazon’s plans for door-to-door drone delivery. So how exactly will Wal-Mart indoor drones work? “The drone would find the item in the backroom storage warehouse of the store, generally restricted to staff only, and fly through an unobstructed window in the wall that separates the warehouse from the retail area to deliver it”.
Robotic AI-powered shop assistants
We’ve gotten used to chat-bots in online stores, but, as the border between online and offline is blurring, we see robots getting into the brick-and-mortar shops to serve us. Retailers are planning to use robots for inventory management, retrieving orders, product customisation, customer assistance, and even straight-up employee replacement. For 6 million people in the retail industry, this raises fear of losing their jobs to the robots. For the customers, this brings the hope of avoiding a heck of a lot of confusion and the throes of choosing with the help of solutions like voice-controlled shopping assistant.
Your previous — both offline and online — shopping history used for recommendations
Again, as online and offline fuse, we may soon find that our digital track follows us in physical stores — with the extensive use of beacons and facial recognition systems. Just as Google decides which ads to show you according to your search history, the retailers in stores will send you special offers when, for instance, you approach the items that you were looking for online. On one hand, this will reduce the possibility of forgetting to buy something that you really needed. On the other hand, that will also lower your barriers and lure you into more emotional purchases.
Holographic representation of goods
This may be customized holographic representation of goods on shelves according to your shopping history as well as customizable interactive holograms that you may tweak to see what options of product you can get. Holograms are already being used for the window display of new garments by Ralph Lauren, and we may expect that in the future they will replace too material mannequins.
Actually, this idea isn’t new — brands like IKEA have been using AR for quite a while now and in the future, this trend will only grow. AR has a wide range of applications: Lowe’s chain of retail home improvement and appliance stores uses it for interactive scale-size 3D representation of kitchens that customers can apply different options to and share their design ideas online; Lego allows customers to scan the box of a certain kit to get the look of the completed set in 3D; AR may come in handy when you’re choosing the beauty product you need, too. By and large, AR is pretty convenient when it comes to playing around with the products that are either too big or packaged and thus are not available for testing.
Moreover, among the latest novelties entering the market over the last few years, solutions that enable virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and the newly-introduced mixed reality (MR) experience are gaining significant popularity. As soon as we got HoloLens in our R&D Lab, we were very excited to try it out on some real-life use cases. So, we decided to find out the benefits of the HoloLens technology for Retail. Watch this short video to see the result of our experiment.
Fitting rooms in Virtual Reality (or even in our brains)
You may want to test certain garments (apparel, particularly) in special conditions — like cold weather, rain or snow. You’ll be able to do it soon, with the help of VR. Adidas is set out to create a VR-enabled fitting room that will expose customers to simulated winter weather, making the process of choosing the apparel for running in the cold much more exciting and relevant. Such ‘testing in context’ is way ahead of conventional fitting rooms when it comes to considering the clothing for extreme activities. As the idea of the brain-computer interface is gaining the momentum (especially, after Elon Musk’s announcement of Neuralink launch), we can imagine such virtual fitting rooms being even more realistic when placed inside our brains.
Ultimate customisation of goods and services
ELSE Corp., an Italian startup at the crossroads of fashion and tech, kicks customer experience a notch with the help of AI and virtual reality. Combining these tools, ELSE Corp. enables the customer to create a truly unique garment and see how it will actually fit. It’s easy to imagine that in the nearest future we’ll be able to print such a customized garment in-store immediately on a 4D printer. Brands like Nike and New Balance already have shoes with 3D printed soles in their range. And with the 3D printing of textile on the horizon, the picture in the beginning of this article looks quite adequate, ain’t it?
Whether it is used to prevent fraud and shoplifting or to facilitate the payments, biometrics are definitely going to shape the future of retail. MasterCard has launched the card with an embedded fingerprint reader in trial mode this April, and as for now it seems more secure than convenient: the card doesn’t include contactless payment technology and you still have to enter the PIN in addition to placing your thumb on the reader. But as biometric technologies — specifically, face recognition — evolve, we may soon expect much more convenient and safe solutions.
Blurring of boundaries between online and offline
As the line between the present and the future becomes indistinguishable, the boundaries between online and offline blurs. Retailers embed online functionalities into the offline world, and at the same time, online customer experience is getting ever more realistic with the help of AR and VR, enabling users not only see or touch the digital objects but also smell and even taste them!
The present is about the experience, and the future is all about magic.
We at ELEKS believe that the key to success for retailers is not so much marketing and advertising as giving the customers something that they can’t get elsewhere — something that exceeds any of their past experiences. That’s why we try hard to excel in the omnichannel solutions, bringing them up to the level of magic. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficient technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Originally published at eleks.com on August 23, 2017.