Year after year, we’ve seen an increasing amount of innovative technology in stores. As retailers try to bridge the gap between online and in-store sales, we’re experiencing the digital revolution hitting shops across the world. So what are the very basic technologies that both consumers and retailers can expect to welcome in the future? Here are my five predictions for which innovations we are likely to see spring up over the next decade (or even sooner!)
1. Cameras that track and analyse customer interactions with product displays
Using the same technology that we already see in products like Xbox Kinect, Microsoft and a global snack food giant are already developing tools to develop “smart shelves”.
These will record the characteristics of shoppers and how they interact with the shelf, providing the retailers with a better understanding of exactly who interacts with the products and when.
Retailers will be able to push different promotions to digital shelf-edge displays, depending on a variety of factors, such as age, gender, or time of day, to offer different promotions and prices to ensure that customers buy what retailers want them to buy.
Already, personalised pricing and promotion are seen online as consumers readily give away these details – the capability to offer such personalisation in-store will greatly add to the customer experience.
Interactive displays such as touch-screen walls and holographic images
Again, this technology use cameras to interpret who the shopper is and to respond accordingly. Two examples of this are already in operation. The first is Adidas’s ‘Adiverse’ – a virtual footwear wall that integrates the online experience with a store environment, by using a huge touch-screen that interprets various characteristics of an approaching shopper and begins a “conversation” with them about their needs.
The Adiverse can tell the story of the product, such as its development and which well-known sports personalities are wearing it, and connects the shopper to the social media world so they can see real-time comments by others about their favoured product.
The second example is interactive holographic advertising. This technology was used by a luxury ballet shoe retailer, Repetto, to draw crowds of visitors to its shop window during Paris Fashion Week. It allowed people to interact with the window by using hand gestures.
Whilst the use of holograms created a beautiful, life-like 3-D display, this technology is far from new. Under the bonnet of all of these innovations are tried-and-tested capabilities from the gaming and security industries.
What’s exciting for retailers is how these technologies can be used to improve the customer’s shopping experience and even encourage them to part with more cash. For example, I expect supermarkets to use holograms to give cooking demonstrations, and interactive walls to offer product advice.
In theory, consumers need not ever had a bad experience with poor quality staff again – everything they need and could ever want to know will be presented on awesome, interactive technology dotted around the store.
3. Mirrors that offer style advice
Interactive mirrors are already being used in a Japanese cosmetic store. Mirrors that give customers style and colour advice are definitely on the way.
Taking a full 3-D body scan, these tools can help us to choose the ideal clothing that will not only fit perfectly, but will flatter figures and suit complexions. Even if a customer didn’t trust the mirror’s recommendation and want to try before they buy, no problem! Imagine such mirrors showing an image of the customer wearing the product without them ever going near a fitting room.
This same technology could be expanded to show how a new sofa would fit into a living room, or what a pair of curtains would look like at a customer’s window – all before getting the product home.
Giving customers the ability to visualise the end outcome of a purchase before they commit to spending will soon be the norm.
4. Smart trolleys that act as superstore sat-nav and make checkouts a thing of the past
Various strands of capabilities which are already being used elsewhere can be pulled together to create the ultimate “smart trolley”.
Imagine a trolley with a tablet PC mounted to the handle. With the customer’s approval, it can interact via near-field communication (NFC) with their smart phone and apps. Let’s assume the customer has a supermarket loyalty app, which includes their shopping list, favourite items, wish list, and – of course – past purchase history.
Using store layout data, the trolley can now map the customer journey around the store ensuring that no items are missed off the list. It can also advise on promotions tailored to the user.
Smart trolleys will remove the need for checkouts, self-checkouts and queues altogether. It will scan items throughout the shop and, at the touch of a button, the customer can pay via whichever contactless means they prefer, and leave – a much less stressful experience!
5. 3-D printing stations that mean millions of products are always in stock
This is my personal favourite: 3-D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, it’s already happening. 3-D printing will totally transform our shopping experience.
It works by building an item, layer by layer, within minutes. Gone are the days of having to order parts for your washing machine or car. No longer will items have to be “in stock”. Customers will simply download the print programme and pop to a local shop to use the 3-D print station!
With 3-D printing, retailers will be able to sell millions of everyday products without the need to hold stock. Customers will be able to personalise any standard item, making them exactly how they want them or even designing their own.
3-D printing is possibly the most significant innovation to hit retail and it will change the face of shopping beyond recognition.
Where do you think the future of retailing is headed?
These are just a few of my thoughts about the future of retail, and five of the technologies that I expect to see in stores within the next decade, or less. I, for one, can’t wait! But what do you think? What are anticipating or hoping for in our future shops? Let me know in the comments!