New Ikea Store: The Future of Retail?

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When we heard Ikea was opening its first full-size London store in 13 years, and that it would be the most sustainable Ikea store in the UK, we knew we had to check it out.

It sounded so optimistic and forward-thinking – a shining example of circular retail, with sustainability workshops for customers and eco friendly tech like solar panels, geothermal heating and a rainwater harvesting system.

But would it live up to the hype?

First impressions

Instead of the usual ‘big blue box’ store style, Ikea has incorporated its circular retail philosophy into the design, with a storefront of natural wood and glass, letting lots of light into the bright, airy entrance.

As soon as we walked in, a member of staff greeted us and pointed us in the right direction. Maybe we’re biased because we visited on the first sunny day of 2019, but the sun-filled space felt welcoming and uplifting – a great first impression.

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Storytelling

The PR emphasis on sustainability was echoed in store, with multiple messages projected on to walls, playing on the TVs in showrooms and hanging between products on cardboard signs.

Initially, these sustainability messages were generically inspirational e.g. ‘Find the value in waste’. But as we progressed through the showrooms towards the more trade-focused sections, it became clear that Ikea has a lot to say about sustainability.

We noticed informative displays throughout the store, highlighting Ikea’s eco friendly credentials like using recycled glass and only selling LED lighting. After a while, these displays lost their impact slightly (we didn’t see any other shoppers stopping for a closer look) but we were left with the overall impression that Ikea is, and has been for a long time, working hard to be more environmentally friendly.

We wonder if these displays would be more effective if they had an interactive element, for example letting customers touch the fluffy cotton bolls or interact with the LED light bulb display.

More impactful was a walk-through installation about upcycling, with colourful, creative products. We loved the distinctive tone of voice and typography, which were livelier and more engaging here than elsewhere in the store. It was a great example of circular retail, inspiring customers to reuse Ikea products.

Shopper experience

While Ikea has played up the sustainability factor with nature-inspired design and bold storytelling, this never gets in the way of the customer experience.

The whole store is geared towards navigation and conversion: plenty of visible, helpful staff; incredibly detailed, immersive showrooms; and touchscreens where customers can customise products, check on stock and sign up to the loyalty program.

The beginning of our journey was as inspiring as we’d hoped. But as we wandered further into the depths of the store, the magic rubbed off slightly – not all the tech worked, for example, and we felt a bit lost in the cold, cavernous warehouse.

And then we got to the tills.

One of the self-service sections was out of order, and there were long queues wherever we looked. Thanks to a problem at the till (we weren’t told what it was), our queue didn’t move for almost ten minutes.ikea_3

It felt like our journey had ended on a flat note. The queuing experience was frustrating, and the exit wasn’t as pleasant as the entrance (although there was a nice goodbye message, telling us about events Ikea is running in the area).

But while we waited at the bus stop across the road (it’s just a ten-minute bus ride to North Greenwich tube station), we realised that, overall, it is a great store. Even from outside, it looks bright and inviting. With all the natural wood, and the abundance of greenery seen through the glass, it feels like a store in harmony with its surroundings.

While not quite the ‘future of retail’ we had been hoping for, it’s an inspiring, contemporary retail experience from start to almost finish – if only those self-service tills had been working…

Author

Sean Dwyer

Thinking ‘last mile’ first

In 2019, we can shop without stopping at a checkout, chat to customer support through WhatsApp and beam a showroom sofa into our living room using AR (so far, so sci-fi). But one element of the shopper journey remains stubbornly inconvenient: the last mile.

With frictionless and on-demand shopping experiences becoming the norm, the hassle of home delivery seems like an anachronism. How much longer will shoppers put up with rushing to the Post Office after work, or waiting in for eight-hour delivery slots?

It’s time for retailers to rethink their last mile strategy, or risk being overtaken by those that have. We take a look at the brands responding with bold thinking, plus some last mile thoughts of our own.

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The gift of convenience
When it comes to clever last mile solutions, the gifting industry is leading the way – all thanks to the humble letterbox. Brands like Petal Post in Australia and Garçon Wines in the UK have created new letterbox-sized packaging for classic gifts, while others have rebranded products already the perfect shape to post (see Irish chocolate bar specialists, Sweet Post.)

These brands give gift-buyers the convenience and security they crave. Now the shopping, wrapping and posting can all be done on an app in seconds, with a notification when the gift has been delivered.

Of course some products will never fit through a letterbox, no matter how inventive the packaging. The real takeout here is the creative approach to delivery, which all kinds of retailers can embrace.

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The trouble with drones
Amazon has been the most prolific when it comes to rethinking the last mile. In 2016, it launched a drone delivery service, promising that ‘One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.’

It was a headline-grabbing announcement, but Amazon has since gone quiet on the drone front. Perhaps it’s being cautious after a spate of bad press (who could forget the Christmas chaos at Gatwick?), or maybe it’s still grappling with government regulations all over the world. In any case, Amazon has been focusing on other technologies that are just as innovative – and just as newsworthy…

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The rise of the robots
…which bring us to Amazon Key. Launched in 2017, it works with a smart lock and camera to give delivery workers access to your home, or the boot of your car. While it negates the age-old problem of having to wait in for parcels, its success relies on a change of thinking from customers… are we ready to let strangers into our homes?

Then there’s Amazon Scout, a pavement-roving robot that navigates itself around the city. Although the idea seems amazingly futuristic, Amazon is actually behind the curve on this. While Scout is currently only available in one suburb near Seattle, more established companies already have fleets of delivering robots on the streets – and they’re going global.

Since 2014 and 2015 respectively, Starship and Marble have been rolling out bots across the United States, the UK and Germany. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be used to deliver larger items (rush hour is busy enough without sofa-sized robots joining the fracas), but they’re proving successful in the grocery and takeaway sectors.

The big question is: how would the public and robots coexist? Would the bots be secure from theft and vandalism, for example? If the failure of communal bike schemes in European cities is anything to go by (too many unattended bikes were stolen or smashed up), perhaps not.

The future of delivery
The potential of these new technologies is exciting, but we’ve a long way to go before they become widespread; a more immediate fix would be to improve existing logistics.

Could retailers club together to put depots in every neighbourhood, filled with lockers accessed by a unique code? What if online retailers partnered with local takeaways to offer a late-night delivery service?

With bold, outside-the-box thinking, who knows what the future of delivery looks like? One thing’s for certain: retailers need to put convenient delivery at the heart of their business. Because while we call it the last mile, it could be the first barrier that stops a shopper from making a purchase.

Author

Sean Dwyer

We went to the Amazon Go Store in Seattle

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With 9 stores in the US, a rumoured 2019 expansion to the UK, and allegedly 2,000 stores planned to open over the next ten years, we just had to check out one of the buzzy new Amazon Go stores. For those who haven’t heard, Amazon Go is a chain of convenience stores launched by Amazon in 2018 that  uses what the tech giant calls “the world’s most advanced shopping technology” to let customers shop without the need to queue or checkout to make purchases. Amazon calls it the “Just Walk Out Shopping experience”.

Here’s our take on what worked and what didn’t, and what it means for retail design.

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OUR EXPERIENCE

We walked up to the flagship store located in Seattle, and immediately there was a sense of excitement. The exterior of the store has minimal branding in black and orange (colours pulled from the Amazon logo), but is mainly glass, allowing passersby to peer inside to both the store itself and a large kitchen where fresh meals and snacks are prepared on site. When you walk inside, there’s a small alcove before you reach the scanner gates – a great place for the crowd (mainly tourists) to get out of the rain to download the Amazon Go app, which is needed to scan in. There were also two Amazon employees helping people get set up, and answering questions, which was particularly welcome when they showed us how to scan two of us in with just one phone (otherwise the phone owner would be paying for whatever the second person picked up too!).

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Inside, most of the store is dedicated to prepared meals, which all look pretty good, but there are also grocery aisles for all the essentials. We picked up – and put down – lots of different products, but ended up only grabbing a few souvenir chocolate bars for the team back at the studio (we love the fact that the store acknowledged its customer base of techie tourists by selling souvenirs!) and then we… walked out with them.

Yep it was definitely a strange and counter-intuitive moment to just walk out the gates without paying (you don’t even need to scan out to exit, the exit gates just open). Nothing happened on our app upon exiting, so thinking maybe it hadn’t worked, we approached one of the Amazon employees to check. She casually laughed off the feeling of stealing, and let us know the app would update within a couple minutes. Sure enough, approximately 4 minutes later, and a few blocks away, the app updated with a receipt with our exact purchase on it. It felt like magic. It felt like the future. It felt extremely cool.

WHAT WORKED AND WHAT DIDN’T

While we enjoyed the futuristic vibe of our experience, we feel like some of the in-store communication around how exactly the app worked could have made a huge difference. Before we visited. we had read that the our ‘virtual cart’ would be updated live, tracking what you picked up and put down. We had assumed this would be visible on the app, but instead, the screen stayed the same while we shopped, showing the same QR code we had scanned in with. It wasn’t until we were well away from the store that the app was updated to show our receipt. As the technology becomes more familiar, this wouldn’t be a big problem, but  especially given that most of the people in the store seemed to be curious first-timers, it seems like more could have been done

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The overall feel of the store was that it was a little bit stark, almost too clean, and not very ‘foodie’. We think this is because the complex system of cameras that track your virtual cart as you pick things up throughout the store needs to see what people are doing clearly. The tech was well-hidden though, and unless you looked up to the ceiling, where the cameras were camouflaged in all black, you would hardly notice it. Along with hiding the technology, Amazon has clearly made design decisions to make the store feel non-techie and approachable, such as the use of warm wood panelling, a friendly tone of voice, and hand-drawn illustrations and food photography throughout the store, but it still felt a little cold compared to what we’re used to from a grocery store.

What absolutely worked was how Amazon had translated their previously online-only brand to a retail store. Using colours derived from the logo, and fonts, design and tone of voice that felt friendly yet simple, much the same as is used through the online experience everyone is familiar with. While there were aspects of the design we think could be improved, overall it felt like a pretty seamless cross-channel experience.

IS THIS THE FUTURE?

Overall, our visit to Amazon Go was a fun look into what the future of retail will inevitably hold. Because of its novelty, the store felt a bit like a PR exercise to show off Amazon’s technology muscles, but they did a good job making the impenetrable, futuristic technology feel approachable. Also, we’re not going to lie: if an Amazon Go opened up next to Whippet HQ, we would be in there nearly every day – you just can’t beat the convenience of saying goodbye to queuing elsewhere in favour of being able to pop in, grab a fresh lunch, and walk out in just a few seconds.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Retail Trends in 2019

Deep learning , Neural networks , Machine learning and artificia

Bricks-and-mortar retail in 2019 is looking like a brave new world. It’s all about consumer expectations – specifically how to anticipate and meet them seamlessly. We take a look at some of those expectations, and how they’re dictating the trends of 2019.

I expect my store to know me
Big brands, be warned – the future of in-store retail has all the hallmarks of a local shop. Only, instead of a chatty shopkeeper you’ve known since childhood, there’s data. Lots of it. That data is collated and connected at all possible touchpoints, and then used to get to know you better, tailor your experience, make recommendations and ultimately increase spend. It could be an app that helps you navigate the store. It could be geo-targeted deals and welcome messages. It could be offline wish lists stored online. But it will be personal, independent-style retail powered by big-business tech.

I expect more in one place
You can buy pretty much anything in a supermarket these days. But then, you can buy pretty much anything on Amazon without moving more than a thumb. Which means it’s time to offer something more. Grocery stores might, for example, have a bank and café inside them, giving customers another reason to visit. Take H&M’s Pleat cafe as an example of high-profile early adopters. With 3800 US stores slated to shutter their doors by the end of the year, the time is right to provide more than just goods on shelves.

I expect transparency
As millennials get older, their collective spending power increases, and so does their influence over the marketplace. And – to make a broad generalisation – millennials shop with their hearts as much as their wallets. This means that brands need to earn a place in those hearts, and that’s rarely achieved through products alone. Transparency, inclusivity, cultural gravitas – these are what drive real affection and loyalty. Brands that are unafraid to truly commit to a cause will be the ones who unlock real brand loyalty. In 2019 the point of of difference reigns supreme.

I expect my store to do good
So, if shops are getting personal and brands are standing up for their cause, what of the products? In a nutshell: they’re going to be more local and better for the environment. It’s that transparency thing again. In today’s market it’s no longer enough to stick a ‘healthy’ label on food – consumers want to know what that means, why it’s healthy, what the environmental impact is, where the ingredients have come from and how recyclable the packaging is. In fact, retailers will need to move beyond mere recycling and into waste-free and bio-degradable packaging solutions.

All in all, the retail landscape is shifting and for retailers who’re willing and able to move with the times, there’s a real opportunity ahead. Where once brands were a closely-guarded secret, now they’re morphing into a set of customer-facing values and beliefs, and with that comes the opportunity to overhaul internal and external culture to make a real difference in customer’s lives.

Author

Sean Dwyer

Super Supermarkets in Shanghai

Grocery shopping in Shanghai was an eye-opening experience. The tech, the operations, the sheer scale of it all… We walked around open-mouthed for almost a full day and can’t wait to share our discoveries with you. So buckle in and get ready to have your mind blown.

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The people
Or lack of people… Visiting the Auchan Minute store is like visiting the future. So much so that we couldn’t actually get in the front door. See, this place is unmanned. Sans staff. Not a person in sight. You get through the door by scanning a QR code with social app WeChat, pick up your shopping and then pay through the app at checkout. And if your first thought is, ‘But what about theft?’ you are not alone. CCTV monitors the store constantly, and we presume that once you’ve scanned in with your personal WeChat account, the robot police know exactly who you are and where you are at all times. We didn’t put this to the test. Through the glass front we could see around 500 convenience products – it’s kind of like a UK petrol station, if that petrol station was living its wildest technological dreams.

The Delivery
Order online and wait a week for a courier to turn up in a van five to seven days later? So very 2017. At Alibaba-owned supermarket Hema, you can fill your bag up and select home delivery, then watch as said bag is air-lifted to the rafters and deposited in the delivery hub, where it will be transported through a network of tunnels to your house, within 30 minutes. That’s quicker than we could get to the shop and back in person.

The Social
Let’s talk WeChat. The multipurpose app is ubiquitous in China, where 1.057 billion active monthly users turn to it for messaging and calls (like WhatsApp), social (like Facebook), checkins (like Foursquare), translation (like Google Translate) and gaming (like… gaming apps). It’s also used as a payment device in the same way that Apple Pay is used in the UK. Tap it and pay. Easy. So once you’ve used it to get into the staff-less store, you’ll whip it out to to scan your shopping and then to pay before its delivered to your home via underground tunnel.

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The Food
Imagine a supermarket built on today’s scale, but with a 1950s approach to produce. This is the vibe we felt in both Hema and the main Auchan store. There are fresh foods merchandised loose throughout, which staff will weigh out and bag up for you. There are team members on stands preparing slices of fresh fruit, which you can buy in store or have delivered to your home. And then there are restaurants. Not coffee spots, but mini food hubs, serving genuinely incredible food. These places make supermarkets a destination in themselves – pop in for lunch and order dinner ingredients back to your house. Genius.

The Big Idea
To us, who are still struggling with temperamental self-checkouts, these shops were like a wonder-vision of what can be done when tech and service work together. Because, here’s the thing: none of this digital innovation was designed to wow. It was designed to provide a service – to facilitate smooth, easy shopping. The locals aren’t open-mouthed as their shopping ascends to a transport tunnel, nor are they stumped by a WeChat entry code. They’re simply accustomed to shopping supported by tech. It’s 1950s provenance powered by 2018 convenience, and we love it.

Author

Sean Dwyer

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