We're entering the age of the digital retail experience. Gone are the days of bricks and mortar versus the internet; enter the era of everyone likes a trip to the shops, but no one wants to pay more than they do online.
The solution: the merging of digital and physical retail space; the ability to access the information, reviews and prices found online that aid our purchasing decisions, combined with the tangibility of the 'real' world.
Do we really need actual shops?
The merging of the digital and physical retail world is facilitated by an old fashioned need to actually see, hold and experience the items customers are parting with their hard-earned money for. As good as websites get, they will only ever provide a version of what people are buying via a screen, and if you're lucky, a chatbot to help you on your way.
There's also the immediacy of a store that actually stocks the physical items; the ability to go to a shop and take something home with you on the same day almost seems like a mythical tale. But according to a survey by US publication Retail Dive, 49% of consumers say they choose shops over ecommerce websites because they want 'to take items home immediately', and another 18% seek the enjoyment of going shopping in stores.
Who's digitising the high street?
Amazon is one of the most high profile companies to get involved with digitising the high street. If you're not yet familiar with Amazon Go, take a look at the video below to gain an idea of what's on offer. Basically, you swipe into the supermarket with an app and pick up anything you like, and simply walk out - all without security chasing you out of the door. The stores use a combination of computer vision, deep learning and sensor fusion technology to work out which items customers have put in their basket. The shopping then gets charged to your Amazon account via the Amazon Go app.
There are now nine Amazon Go stores in the US and plans for many more worldwide by 2020, including Oxford Street.
Made.com is an example of an online retailer that's ventured into the brand new territory of shop retail and made it work. Made.com relaunched its Soho showroom this year (2019) with digital technology integral throughout. Tablets allow shoppers to search products via the website and Instagram, and QR codes attached to items in store allow customers to quickly find what they're looking at and purchase online.
CloudTags show us Made.com's showroom store in Soho, and explain how the retailer utilises in-store tablets...
Lush offers an option for customers to pay via tablet, and an alternative to environment-damaging packaging and the information usually found on it. The Lush app uses machine learning to recognise products in store, meaning customers can simply scan 'naked' items to discover product information. The use of this technology is only set to expand as Lush opens its biggest ever store (complete with a spa!) in Liverpool this year (2019).
The Lush Labs app uses AI to determine what each products is with just a quick snapshot. The app then lets customers purchase products quickly and securely on the go, search by their favourite scent or even 'feeling', and login to their Lush online account to view order history.
“At Lush, we care about sustainability, and we wanted to take that same lens … and apply it to the way we are using technology,” Charlotte Nisbet, Global Concept Lead at Lush, told Adweek.
Just last year (2018) Zara introduced self-service technology allowing customers to avoid the queue. The cutting edge tech adds items to the basket that customers hold up in front of it, removing the need to scan barcodes. Zara has also introduced click-and-collect in London’s Westfield store, including the option for shoppers to order and pay via mobile. Perhaps the most impressive feature is Zara's fitting rooms that use radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to identify what items customers are trying on, and then offer recommendations whilst they change.
Zara is also one of the first mainstream retailers to launch an AR app; customers point a camera at sensors in order to see virtual fashion models showcasing the items with the option to buy directly through the app via their online account.