Can immersive tech really entice customers back into stores?

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We’re seeing AR, VR and AI more and more in the retail space – but can it really work seamlessly with the familiar bricks-and-mortar experience, and get customers back into shops?

It’s no secret that the high street is having to work hard to compete with online shopping. The digital space offers convenience, personalisation and choice that doesn’t always come through in store.

So how can retailers start to encourage consumers away from the Internet, and back into stores? Recently we’ve noticed some big names who’ve been elevating the shopping journey to deliver an experience that can’t be replicated or bettered online.

Nike and a spot of AR gamification

Just this month for example, Nike launched an AR game in-store in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, to increase sales of its Epic React shoes. Customers could try on the shoes, create their own avatar, then enter a virtual world by running on a treadmill. They could bounce on clouds and do all kinds of acrobatics, all while giving the shoes a good real-world try.

This fusion of the real and the virtual is the perfect antidote to filling what’s called ‘the imagination gap’ – the difficulty for consumers to visualise what owning a product might actually be like, and therefore an obstacle to purchase.

Audi’s VR showroom experience

Last autumn Audi took this to a logical level with its VR sales tool. Realising that car buyers felt so well informed by online research, they no longer had to enter a showroom – Audi introduced VR technology that lets you try out customisations before purchase.

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And let’s not forget AI, the thing that will eventually signal the rise of the robot and take over the world. Just kidding. Sort of.

Smart AI mirrors in fashion stores

Some forward-thinking fashion stores have introduced AI-enhanced smart mirrors into their changing rooms, which can identify what you’re trying on, and create on-screen recommendations, with a touch screen to choose items, change lighting and temperature or summon assistance.

All these innovations are about meeting customers’ new, higher expectations – those they’ve been trained to have online. And over the next decade (or even sooner), we can expect truly radical changes in the way we shop in-store.

So what’s next?

The Internet of Things will see our fridges communicate directly with retailers when we’re about to run out of products. Biotechnology could allow us to make payments via eyeball scanning. Haptic technology will let us touch and feel virtual products.

And the whole in-store experience? That will be driven by data, to be more personalised than ever before. From the moment you walk through the door, the store will know who you are, what you normally buy, your price range. In grocery shops, your dietary needs and habits will be recognised, your shopping list will be synced with in-store algorithms and digital shelves will grab your attention and flash up personalised information as you approach.

Does that push your buttons?

The question is, are we willing to give up our anonymity and sense of agency for a smoother shopping journey?

VR and AR elevate the retail experience. Biometrics and the Internet of Things will make it easier. But Artificial Intelligence and the rise of big data take things to a new level altogether. And the answer is yes – we probably will eventually embrace it all… once it’s normalised into everyday life, and we realise through familiarity how much smoother it makes the purchase process.

After all, who thought 10 years ago that anyone would do their weekly shop through their phone?

Author

Sean Dwyer

In praise of (the real) artisan

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Don’t we all love a nice, crusty piece of ‘artisan’ bread and drinking a ‘craft’ beer? It seems that nowadays, artisan brands are everywhere.

Our supermarket shelves, local high streets and online retailers are full of brands and products claiming craft credentials. But with big brands getting in on the act and the use of the term becoming so universal, have we reached ‘peak artisan’ and how do we know even what’s real anymore?

The marketing principle that it’s better to make what sells, rather than sell what you make is known to us all. However, the real artisan and craft trend has turned this thinking on its head.

For the real artisans, it’s not the market opportunity that’s the main focus. Rather, their products are inspired by their own experience. Their stories are personal and compelling, full of dedication, skill and imagination. The film clip on the The Cornish Seaweed company’s website for example, captures the enthusiasm of the founders and how they have used their expertise to create a range of seaweed products (all packaged by hand in a sustainable way) – a very special story indeed.

Small scale production ensures control of every detail for the artisan, and process really matters – often traditional, but with many innovative twists. The authenticity and quality of the products are what attract the customers, even if it means having to pay a bit more (and if you want this uniqueness, why wouldn’t you?)

Unlike the big brands, who use their size and economies of scale to gain an instant wide reach, success can actually be the enemy of the artisan maker. The demand and increase in sales can result in the need to increase production as well as marketing activities, all to the detriment of quality and more importantly, exclusivity.

So how can real artisans compete with big brands whilst retaining their uniqueness and integrity?

One interesting development that appears to be a positive compromise is the likes of small, artisan brands using the scale of bigger brands to increase their reach. While not new, Amazon Fresh is a case in point. As long as they are allowed to retain their brand identity and values, and not be pushed to conform to the mothership, small brands on the Amazon Fresh platform gain the benefits of large scale distribution and marketing, while still preserving their authenticity. It appears to be a win/win situation.

One thing is clear, the artisan offering to customers is wide spread and sometimes quite confusing, but ultimately what makes an ‘artisan’ product is the human touch and heart behind the product which gives us an emotional feel good factor. Preserve that and there’ll always be a place for them, however and wherever they choose to sell.

Author

Sean Dwyer

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