Imagine entering a retail store that responds to your individual needs, creating a truly personalized shopping experience. With interactive shelves that offer products based on your previous purchasing patterns—saving you time and endless searching—or digital signage that surrounds you with a 3D virtual experience and allows you to experience products in a variety of lighting and temperature environments without ever leaving the store. In this guest blog post, David Roth, CEO, EMEA and Asia, The Store WPP, envisions a future for retail where shoppers enter a responsive, sentient store, made possible by the Internet of Things. ~ David McKinney
The Future Is Closer Than We Think
Retail has undergone dramatic changes in the past five years. Pulled by fast-moving, value-centric customers and empowered by digital technologies, leading-edge retailers have rethought everything from the customer experience to the industry supply chain. We’re forging more intimate relationships, bringing shoppers more of what they want, and delivering in ways that better intersect our operational requirements and the consumer’s new demands.
Now, we’re heading into a period of even more radical transformation. Companies like Intel have invested billions to develop the foundation for the Internet of Things, big data, and mobility. As their investments pay off, we’re entering an era when retailers will be able to act as if computing power and bandwidth are essentially free. As a result, retail is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the past 50.
The Responsive, Sentient Store
What’s different in this new world of retail?
Picture a store in which every element is smart, sensing, and connected. Shoppers wear, use, and find useful a whole new generation of intelligent products that keep them comfortable, engaged, informed, and connected. Shopping never stops. Instead, shoppers continuously engage in an ongoing process of researching, experiencing, buying, and communicating. The store becomes the sensing, responsive centerpiece—a new node on the consumer’s ever-changing, non-linear path to purchase.
Smart retailers will use a mix of technology innovations to deliver a compelling, hyper-personalized store experience. For example, display screens will give way to life-size holographic displays. They’ll integrate with the physical store to create new virtual environments with personalized interactions that offer compelling, customer-valued interrelations.
What we currently call digital signage will contribute far more to the retail mix. (And we’ll have to come up with a new language for it, as “signage” is too small a word for what these new ingredients will be able to provide.) Personalized solutions will not only welcome the shopper, but also suggest products, answer questions, and empower both shoppers and associates as they move through the store. Intelligent shelves and context and individually relevant displays will inform, add value, and enhance the physical in-store experience, driving customer loyalty and increasing sales.
Manufacturing and supply chain processes will transform retailing and the retail experience as well. Advances in small-scale drones and 3D printing will redefine what it means to buy, make, and deliver a product. Data analytics will tie it all together, enabling retailers to create custom responses and optimized solutions at every touch point.
Create the Future
The future doesn’t just happen. We’re building it through the actions we take every day. So, what actions can help retailers build a successful future? As I work with store and brand leaders around the globe, here’s what I recommend:
- Embrace technology. There’s no sitting this one out. In the next decade, every retailer will become a digital retailer, every brand a digital brand. The rewards of technology innovation will be too compelling to resist—and customers are going to demand them.
- But also realize it’s not about technology. Keep the shopper at the center. Look beyond eye candy and digital toys. For every technology innovation or solution, focus on how you’ll use it to deliver value to the shopper. If you don’t know, learn more, dig deeper, or move on.
- Know where you want to lead and where you are happy to be a fast follower. You can’t chase every new technology. Understand your core customer proposition. Explore where you can use technology to enhance and support it. Make that the place where you lead. It’s fine to be a fast follower in the other areas.
- Create a strategic roadmap for the next five to 10 years. Orient your planning not around store formats, but around a new paradigm of thinking about retailing. Build a strategy that encompasses the face of retail (the physical and visual experience), the brains of retail (how you use data for competitive advantage), and the bones of retail (the data and technical infrastructure and supply chain). Consumers will always run faster than stores will, so give yourself flexibility to adjust.
- Upgrade your IT. You’ll need open, scalable, high-performing infrastructure to take advantage of the rapid pace of innovation. If you’re currently tied to legacy platforms and RISC-based architectures, start immediately to decouple yourself. Begin moving to a more open, industry-standards-based environment. Develop or hire new skill sets—from data scientists and mathematicians to mobile app developers.
Technology for its own sake is not innovation. It only becomes useful innovation as retailers understand its relevance to their unique customer base and are agile and creative in converting it to customer value. I’m excited to see the future we’re creating. One thing is clear to me. The future is not what it used to be.
- Explore retail’s past and experience its future via The History of Retail in 100 Objects.
- Learn more about technology’s role in retail’s future.