Haptic Retail: The Next Generation of Online Shopping?
When talking about retail, we're often left wondering, what's next? What are some of the technologies that will revolutionize the retail industry going forward?
Often, it's easiest to refer to the things we see in the media, from 3-D printing, the rise of mobile commerce, process streamlining, automated decision making and other digital retail technologies associated with the merger of the physical and digital worlds.
However, what technologies go beyond what we see developing in the news? The reality is that no one really knows. In January 2007, five months before Apple launched the first iPhone, few could have predicted the impact the smartphone would have on our lives. It's plausible that five months from now a technology is released that has a similar impact as the iPhone, on the retail market.
Trends that we see today involve making online retail more immersive. Technologies like Microsoft Kinect already have a large user base enabling people to see images of themselves wearing clothing in their own home. Meanwhile, virtual reality technologies like Occulus Rift could allow people the ultimate in immersive retail experience without ever leaving their home.
But is that immersive enough?
The big issue with all forms of online, or nonphysical, retail is that you cannot feel something. You can't feel the smoothness of a fabric, evaluate the weight of a new camera or gently squeeze a melon in the supermarket to check for ripeness. While e-commerce sites today have superb images, great videos, detailed descriptions, weights, dimensions and composition information, there's no substitute for holding a potential purchase in your hands.
So, as far as what may be next for retail, after virtual reality technologies have established themselves, this is the next stage: haptic retail. Enabling online shoppers to not just see a product, but to touch it, feel it and truly evaluate it from every possible angle from the comfort of their own home.
Though this concept may sound very "Star Trek" or "Matrix" even, haptic technology has made some interesting progress of late. Haptics is the science of touch, and researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. have created a way to feel virtual representation of three-dimensional objects using ultrasound.
Suggested uses of this technology throughout today's landscape include allowing museum artifacts to be examined without being touched or by medics to evaluate the output of a CT scan. As this sort of technology matures and standards are defined, the potential uses in the commercial world start to become very interesting. For retail, the ability to absorb an additional sense while shopping, all from the comfort of your own home, becomes a fascinating proposition.
Oliver Guy is the retail industry director at Software AG, a provider of enterprise management software.
Oliver Guy is the global industry director, retail at Software AG, specializing in retail digital transformation and omnichannel technology strategy.
Oliver advises retailers across the globe on their technology strategy and decisions. With more than 20 years focused in technology, Oliver has worked with major names in global retail helping them improve their business through the use of innovative technology. Prior to joining Software AG, Oliver was part of the European Management team at Oracle Retail, his team being responsible for Retail focused Solution Consulting across Europe. Oliver started his career in technology implementing Supply Chain Planning and Optimisation solutions for customers across multiple industries in both Europe and Asia Pacific with Manugistics (JDA).