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The Future of Retail is in Your Pocket (or Purse)

Shust_Headshot Dan Shust, Chief Technology Officer Mar. 7, 2013

The ResourceLAB is focused on helping global brands prepare for the future. That includes finding new ways that digital can improve the in-store experience. On Sunday at SXSW, I will present on stage alongside Gensler architect Barry Bourbon about the Store of the Future. This is our vision.

The retail experience as it exists today is an endangered species. Brands and consumers are on the verge of a seismic shift that will completely change what we understand as in-store shopping. And a great deal of this new, more powerful experience will be controlled by an item that is most likely in your pocket or purse right now…your smartphone.

But before we focus on retail’s future, let’s review its past. Traditionally, retailers hired architects and store planners to focus on all aspects of store design. If technology was introduced, which rarely happened, it was an add-on and not necessarily well integrated into the overall experience. So, even when it worked, its lack of integration often made it grossly ineffective. But technology has advanced greatly since the days when a looping video screen was the height of innovation.

Now, handheld devices that were used only for phone calls a decade ago are personal digital extensions, capable of changing each of our shopping experiences. These devices have gone from simple mobile phones to smartphones with up to 18 different sensors, tons of apps and an incredible number of ways to keep us connected. What’s more, they rarely leave our sight, serving to connect us, guide us, and lead us in new directions.

There are more than 100 million smartphones in use in the U.S. alone. So, it’s no surprise that digital marketing experts are now working together with retail architects and designers to harness the power of these devices to help retailers rewire. They’re responding to digital advancements and changing consumer behaviors. And they’re adopting integrated omni-channel approaches at every point of the consumer journey.

Soon, time-tested concepts such as cash wraps, fitting rooms, signage and kiosks will evolve and leave their former selves looking like proverbial dinosaurs. In short, the physical and digital are colliding, and most of us won’t believe what’s in store. For a better understanding of what this all means, let’s go shopping at the Store of the Future. (It’s really not too far away.)

Approaching the Store
Stores of the future will all be geo-fenced. When you enter the invisible boundary, your smartphone will allow your preferred retailers to begin communicating with you via simple SMS messages and other feature-rich technologies. These communications will go far beyond the one-size-fits-all sales blasts we are all familiar with today. They will be tailored to each of us based on context. (BTW … the word of the year is “context.”) Ideally, your message will be constructed based on the products you own, your frequency of visits, what motivates you to action and more.

As you get closer to the store, hopefully, you will notice even more enhancements: displays that truly allow for real window shopping; interactive experiences that can be controlled by your smartphone; and even more personal layers of communication based on how close you are to the store.

Entering the Store
Step inside the store and your presence will be announced digitally (if you desire) to the sales staff. Their clienteling apps on their tablets will display information about you, your purchases, your likes along with recommendations, all with the goal of enhancing your visit. Your smartphone automatically will receive a disposable app for use during your visit.

Within your shopping app, you’ll see your loyalty level, offers tailored to you and subtle product suggestions. Plus, if you’ve made arrangements (and in some cases, even if you haven’t), products that you are, or might be, interested in will be pulled and arranged for you. And as you browse the store, you may notice changes in the digital experience that follows you around. This may include digital signs that display ratings and reviews relevant to you and smartphone alert whispers that guide you to new products and experiences. The background music may even change to match your tastes.

Browsing Products
Want more details on a particular product? Pick it up. Tags on the product will trigger nearby screens to deliver a world of information that was previously unavailable, including descriptions, suggested complementary products and in-use videos.

In a store without digital screens? You will be able to look at the product with your smartphone camera. Using image recognition technology, the product packaging, hangtag or even the product itself will be recognized. Then, your device will display a number of digital layers of information. Deeper product information, ratings, reviews, how-to videos and enhanced configuration experiences all will be delivered. Your smartphone will also be your gateway to extended product options not available in the physical store.

Checking Out
When you are ready to check out, you will have the option to use a retailer’s mobile wallet app (on your smartphone, of course), all without standing in line. That means you will save time and paper. But the best part (for consumers and retailers) is that all of a shopper’s loyalty information, available offers, and discounts will be presented in a single, convenient smartphone app. Plus, when you enter a store, you will get a contextual message that offers you a chance to save on an item that complements a previous purchase, which means additional shopping inspiration and a chance to earn more rewards.

The Store of the Future is Here
Continually improving technology means everything we want is within reach, no matter the time or location. Digital tools, ecommerce and ubiquitous connections have spoiled us and changed our expectations for shopping experiences. The physical Store of the Future has to evolve quickly to meet our needs and expectations. And the quickest way to do so is through the mobile kiosk in most of our pockets.

With our smartphones, we soon will be able to enjoy powerfully enhanced shopping, whether we’re on our way to the store, strolling through the aisles or preparing to check out. And in some ways, the future of retail is already here. But as of yet, no single retailer has connected their digital and physical experiences to create an end-to-end omni-channel experience. As retail continues to be rewired, the secret is integrating these digitally enhanced properties and experiences in a way that feels natural and inspiring. So, when the bigger digital advancements arrive and completely connected experiences occur, customers will not only be ready for them, they will be eager to try them.

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