The Extraordinary Future of Shopping

Your map to better shopping for consumers and brick-and-mortar retailers

Rebecca Harris April 25, 2016

Retailers are ushering in a futuristic in-store experience thanks to smart, accessible technologies that make shopping easier. This isn’t sci-fi. Our illustrated guide shows what’s possible today.

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1. Meet the next wave of store clerks: robots. Pepper, “the world’s first humanoid robot,” gets smarter over time and interacts with people on an emotional level. In Japan, SoftBank Mobile uses Pepper to greet and help customers at its 140 stores, and Nestlé will soon have the friendly robot greet patrons in 1,000 Nescafé outlets.

2. With Perch technology, animated images are projected on display counters, moving and reacting to consumers’ positions and the products they hold using optical sensors. At select Kate Spade stores, the displays show interactive content such as photos, style tips and videos.

3. No more missing the courier: “click and collect” lets customers order online and pick up in-store or, in some cases, at other convenient locations. In a pilot project, online shoppers at Walmart.ca can have their orders delivered for pickup at select 7-Eleven stores in the Toronto area.

4. Tablets aren’t just for the checkout: they can be used to show content such as product info and videos, or even for an augmented reality experience. Lowe’s “Holoroom” allows customers to tour a 3D model of their bathroom design via a tablet.

5. Tablets are slowly but surely replacing cash registers, and allow staff to process orders from anywhere in the store. At Frank & Oak’s flagship store in Toronto, tablets are used for POS and provide staff with inventory levels and customer profiles.

6. Mobile payments are no doubt on the rise, but luxury retailer Rebecca Minkoff has taken it to the next level: customers with a PayPal app check-in, and when they’re ready to pay for their items, they can press a button on an interactive mirror in the dressing room. A sales associate then comes to pack up the goods.

7. Window-shopping has a new literal meaning. Passersby can use their mobile phones to scan or tap interactive, shoppable window displays and be linked to the retailer’s mobile site to view products and purchase instantly. London department store Harrods and Ralph Lauren tested out this tech in 2014.

8. Dressing rooms at Rebecca Minkoff feature RFID “magic mirrors” that digitally display the customer’s items. Using the touch screen, the shopper can ask a clerk to bring different sizes or colours, and view ways to style the items.

9. Mannequins that “talk” to shoppers through their smartphones were developed by U.K. startup Iconeme. Shoppers who download the associated app can learn about what the mannequin is wearing, where to find the items in store, and how much they cost.

10. Retail theatre wouldn’t be complete without screens, screens everywhere. A Sport Chek store in Mississauga, Ont. has 226 screens and another in Toronto has 257. They’re used for airing live games, showing off new merchandise and sharing local sports stories.

11. n-store beacons allow retailers to send customers targeted messages and offers via their smartphones. But the real benefit of beacons is data. Retailers can identify a shopper’s device and tie their real-world activities to their online data (see “A Becaon Behind The Scenes” below).

12. Virtual reality has hit the fashion world. Last fall, Tommy Hilfiger created a 360-degree, 3D film of its fall catwalk, and in-store shoppers could watch it on a Samsung GearVR device. Rebecca Minkoff sold a Google Cardboard headset online and people could watch her fall runway show in VR at home.

13. A 360-degree interactive mirror in the fitting room lets customers do a “catwalk” and watch a video of themselves afterwards, getting a full view of the outfit. Using a touchscreen, they can email themselves the video and pictures, or share them on social media. Thyme Maternity debuted this buzz-worthy mirror last year.

14. Smart signs equipped with facial recognition software deliver real-time, targeted messages to consumers based on their age, gender and even mood. Montreal-based Impax Media’s “digital media gates” for grocery stores determine when people see the screen as well as their gender and approximate age.

A Beacon Behind the Scenes

In-store tech isn’t just about giving consumers shiny new objects to interact with. It can also be a data goldmine.

Beacons are a primary example. While many marketers see these small broadcasting stations as a way to send notifications to smartphones, that approach “doesn’t scale and it’s broderline spammy,” says Neil Sweeney, founder of Freckle IoT, which has built an outdoor network of more than 30,000 beacons. The company helps brands tie their customers’ online data to their real-world activities.

“With the beacon… you can actually tell how many people have been in your store, how often they’ve been there, how long they were there for, etc. And you can use that information to influence all your marketing decision going forward” says Sweeney.

Sport Chek is currently working with Google to roll out Google’s beacon in its stores. “The biggest challenge that retailers face is bridging the online and offline world,” says the retailer’s SVP of marketing, Frederick Lecoq. “Beacons will actually be a way to reconnect the shoppers with an online behaviour or a past shopping experience.”

Sport Chek is also working with analytics provider RetailNext. It uses cameras and sensors to see how many people are entering the store versus how many are making purchases, which areas of the store are hot from a a traffic perspective, and if people are interacting with its in-store technology.