As director of market research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, I have an insider’s view of the latest and greatest innovations and technology. And there’s an important, but unexpected, trend in the intersection of technology and retail: tech innovations are giving shoppers even more reasons to visit brick-and-mortar stores.
Ninety percent of consumer shopping still occurs in stores, and consumers are actually spending more money per visit in stores than online. Brands are increasingly exploring how to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience. And, 10 years from now, how we shop in stores is going to look a lot different than it does today. And here’s why:
Immersive technologies are helping retailers enhance the shopping experience. Walmart has partnered with Spacee, an interactive augmented reality (AR) company, to design interactive Nest thermostat displays for its stores. Amazon.com recently debuted Amazon Showroom to give customers an idea of what homeware purchases will look like. Macy’s uses virtual reality (VR) to help in-store shoppers “place” furniture products in their actual living spaces — and move through the room using VR headsets. Ikea also uses VR technology to help shoppers build their dream kitchens, allowing them to walk around a true-to-size, make-believe 3D kitchen and even interact with objects, including changing cabinet colors, with just the click of a button. And Aetrex, a footwear retailer, is using 3D printing to create the world’s most customized orthotic inserts based on a custom foot scan.
Over 2,000 companies around the world are already using Softbank Robotics’ Pepper, the world’s first robot with the ability to recognize faces and basic human emotions. Pepper can engage with people through conversation and the touchscreen on his chest, which makes him ideal for interacting with customers. Tally, a robot specifically designed for retail stores, can search whether an item is in stock, look up the price and tell a shopper where it’s located. With developing technology, retail robots will also be able to greet you by name and may even predict what you’re looking for based on your past shopping trips.
In dressing rooms of the future, smart mirrors will scan your face and body to make specific recommendations about size and products. The SK-II Future X Smart Store, which launched in Tokyo last year, is already using face-scanning technology to recommend customized products based on skin type. Fashionista has called clothing startup RedThread “the future of fashion” for its use of 3D mobile body scanning technology to create a made-to-order item. In the store of the future, similar 3D scanning technology will be incorporated into the retail experience to identify your best size and most flattering styles. And it’s not a distant future — smart technology has already made its way into retail mirrors. London’s Farfetch store, for example, uses smart mirrors that allow you to request different sizes and colors of clothes without leaving the dressing room.
The Unmanned Store
In stores of the future, consumers may have an entire buying experience without encountering a single sales associate. Some say it started with self-checkout, but technology can now assist customers in all areas of the shopping experience. At CES® 2019, the largest, most influential tech event on the planet, NXP debuted technology that helps retailers embrace the unmanned store by giving customers 24/7 access to shops, welcoming them with personalized signage and even enabling checkout right in the store aisle.
Consumers want experiences, not just products — especially if they’re going to shop on Main Street rather than from the comfort of their couches. And retailers are responding from around the globe as stores incorporate dining, entertainment and other experiences into their locations. Canada Goose’s flagship store in New Jersey features a "Cold Room," where customers can test jackets in freezing temperatures. House of Vans in London offers a skate park, cinema, café, live music venue and art gallery. And in over a hundred TOMS stores, customers can use VR headsets to view other countries and see how the brand's One for One giving campaign impacts local people.
These technologies are in just a few stores now, but they offer a glimpse of what’s possible in the coming years. As these technologies become more developed and more accessible, the only limit will be what we can dream up.
Lesley Rohrbaugh is director of market research at the Consumer Technology Association, the trade association representing the $398 billion U.S. consumer technology industry, which supports more than 15 million U.S. jobs.
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