The bricks and mortar shop of the future will be fully digitalised, seamlessly connecting shoppers’ online and offline retail experiences and making the process both more simple and more engaging.
At Internet World, an ecommerce fair held in Munich last month, tech firms unveiled the key developments that will likely become commonplace and shape both online and in-store shopping. Here Drapers picks out some of the highlights.
The smart shelf
Retail tech firm Hybris Labs has developed a shelf which matches products to shoppers’ needs and then provides in-depth information on the items suggested. The prototype is currently focused on a wine display which is linked to a mobile or tablet app; shoppers use the app to answer five questions with their answers guiding the selection of their ideal product ,which becomes illuminated on the shelf. An attached iPad reveals the product’s information as well as any associated promotions. Each bottle is also resting on a pressure sensor so when any bottle is picked up by the shopper the iPad immediately switches to show that product’s information.
Hybris Labs lead user experience designer Anja Wilbert explains the concept can be applied to any product, including fashion – and particularly footwear which can be easily displayed on shelving – with the iPad revealing details about the materials used, price, care instructions, corresponding trend ideas and either similar items or other products to complete the look. The information stored by the smart shelf also enables retailers to develop a clearer understanding of shoppers’ interests.
Drapers’ verdict: 5/10
The smart shelf has the potential to provide significant detailed information for shoppers above and beyond what is available on the product itself and the ability to match highlighted products to shoppers’ requirements could prove both engaging and convenient, by speeding up the selection process. However there are concerns about whether time-constrained shoppers will readily answer all five questions needed to make an accurate match, and only one individual can use the shelf at any one time, making it more of an experiential technology rather than a direct sales tool. In the fashion retail environment this technology would likely work best for footwear and accessories rather than clothing.
Smart changing room
Peer Hohn, chief executive of Berlin-based retail tech start-up Phizzard, is seeking to digitise the traditional changing room experience with interactive screens enabling shoppers to review products they are trying on, state whether they fit, and if not find other sizes available in store before alerting staff to collect the required size. The screens also provide information on similar items stocked. The technology is already in use at two-store young fashion retailer Bodycheck in Berlin, which after its launch last summer, has seen sales increase by 8% in the last month. The data collected from shoppers is also shared with the retailer to help indicate any problems with particular fits.
A second solution has also been devised for footwear retailers enabling shoppers to use screens to browse the offer by shoe size and then narrow the results further by colour and style. Once a particular product has been selected, staff are sent a message to their tablet indicating which item should be collected from the stockroom. The technology was implemented by footwear retailer Shoe Passion in Berlin in January, with results yet to be revealed.
Hohn said the technology was “bringing ecommerce methods into bricks and mortar stores” helping to increase basket sizes.
Drapers’ verdict: 9/10
This technology has real potential to revolutionise the changing room experience, making consumers’ lives easier and their shopping experience more enjoyable. The ability to show shoppers other sizes and similar products available when the item they have chosen does not fit has already proven to increase sales conversion and could also help retailers to adjust their products if shoppers are regularly found to have problems with the fit. The screens’ ability to communicate directly with store staff so requested items can be brought direct to changing rooms will also improve shoppers’ sense of a personalised in-store experience.
Interactive multi touch screens
Acting as a checkout and information terminal, the Polytouch screen has been developed by German IT tech firm Pyramid allowing shoppers to select different products, draw them together using a ‘pinching action’ to compare specifications side-by-side, and then build personalised combinations with combined costs highlighted. Retailers’ campaign shots can also be broken down to show the information for individual products. Once a shopping basket has been compiled this can be either emailed home or purchased for click-and-collect or home delivery.
Salvatore Accaputo, a director at Pyramid, says Marks & Spencer was one of the first retailers to start using this technology last year, with around 700 32-inch kiosks now in stores. US department store Macy’s also ran a four-month pop up in New York showcasing the technology last year.
Further capabilities for the screens include augmented reality fittings, enabling consumers to virtually try on items, which follow the individual’s movements, with photos taken which can be sent to social media. Accaputo says augmented reality will become essential for the pre-selection of items, enabling shoppers to whittle down products to just two or three favourites to physically try on.
Drapers’ verdict: 7/10
Screens are becoming a more common feature in larger high street stores so shoppers can browse wider product ranges online, but the Polytouch screen’s multiple capabilities would make them a useful addition to many retailers’ shops. The programme enabling shoppers to more easily directly compare products would enable faster and potentially better-informed decisions to be made, while the ability to share items via social media is also likely to be popular. The virtual reality technology enabling shoppers to try on and compare multiple looks on screen is engaging and entertaining, however the technology does need to improve before it becomes an acceptable alternative to physically trying on products and therefore directly contributes to sales.
Google glass and virtual reality headsets
Despite Google pulling the sale of Google Glass in January, the wearable tech – alongside other rival products like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Epsom’s Moverio glasses – is still seen as a key element of the future shopping environment, enabling consumers to discover key product information and reviews before purchasing items for delivery or collection. Its use in stores will help retailers move to a true showroom environment, displaying just one of each product for shoppers to see, touch, try on and then scan to purchase. Retailers could either invest in the technology to be handed to shoppers as they enter the store, or rely on shoppers using their own devices. Hearable technology, such as Amazon Dash which detects voice commands to add products to shopping lists, is also a key area to watch enabling shoppers to walk around a store calling out their desired purchases to a smart device.
Virtual reality headsets – such as Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear and Google Cardboard – are not yet mainstream and are still predominantly focused on gaming and immersive films, but tech firms are increasingly looking into retail applications for these devices. One prototype app for the Samsung Gear headset enables you to walk through a virtual shop and select product displayed on shelving by staring at each item. This reveals the product’s full specifications and pricing, and once fully developed could enable purchasing and the selection of delivery options.
Sina Aukamp, innovation strategist at tech consultancy Future Candy, explains it will likely be just one to three years before this technology really takes off and becomes mainstream. “We will definitely use cameras in glasses as it’s so complicated to get out smartphones all the time. Look at how popular smart watches are already.”
Drapers’ verdict: 8/10
The potential for Google Glass and similar smart technologies in retail – if they become mainstream – is huge, providing shoppers with greater product information and ordering capabilities. The main question is how mainstream could they become. If every shopper ends up owning their own smart headwear every retailer will need to adapt their retail environment to enable and capitalise on their use, however, if only a handful of shoppers take up this technology it could prove costly for retailers to invest in headsets in-store to be offered to shoppers when they enter, which would then be at risk of theft and could put off the less technically-able shoppers.
More so than the smart glasses, virtual reality headsets will need to become much more streamlined and fashionable before they really take off and consumers can be encouraged to wear them on a daily basis. Currently more focused on gaming and immersive films, the use of these headsets in stores will likely be more orientated towards entertainment and building brand loyalty, with the potential future ability to also use them to make direct purchases. In light of this, smart headwear like Google Glass is expected to be more useful in direct retail environments.
Further developing existing beacon technologies which send push messages to shoppers’ smart devices as they pass, retail tech firm IntelliAd’s beacons can be placed strategically around a store and link to the retailer’s customer database, sending shoppers relevant personalised push messages, discounts and product information specific to their location in the space and previous purchasing history. These can include messages at the checkout to thank them for their purchase or time-limited discounts sent when they have spent 20-30 minutes in the store without buying anything. They can also be used for loyalty schemes to give shoppers credit for entering the physical store. IntelliAd combines the data captured with consumers’ online profiles and purchasing history to create detailed information for retailers on their shopping patterns and preferences.
IntelliAd’s beacons will be launched next month in premium retailer Hackett’s Zurich flagship, while other beacons are already being placed more generally along Regent Street in London, by the landlord the Crown Estate, to send less specific push notifications to passing shoppers.
Drapers’ verdict: 8/10
Refining the messages being sent to shoppers’ phones as they move around shops and malls is of crucial importance to ensure retailers avoid spamming them with unwanted information which could damage their brand image in the longer-term. Shoppers are increasingly after a tailored, personalised relationship with retailers and linking their online shopping and social media profiles with their location in stores can help to deliver this, helping retailers to increase sales conversion and improve the relationships they have with their more loyal customers. But retailers will need to closely monitor this technology to ensure it is constantly offering a truly personalised experience, rather than bombarding consumers with unnecessary discounts and product information which could harm the retailer and annoy the shopper.