Experiential Retail: The Next Technological Revolution?

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Technology has undeniably changed the way we communicate, read, play and even how we live, but for the most part, these shifts have focused primarily in the online world. Not anymore.

The latest digital innovations seamlessly bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds, creating user experiences that are interactive, socially integrated, personally tailored — and ingrained into our everyday activities. It may very well be the next wave of a technological revolution, and at its core is one of the most social hobbies we partake in (well, at least most women partake in): shopping, of course.

Welcome to the world of experiential retail, where in-store shopping is enhanced with interactive interfaces, augmented reality and social media integration to create a unique experience for each individual consumer. From virtual mirrors that allow users to try on makeup without actually putting it on their faces, to window and storefront displays projected in 3D (or even 4D, as was the case with Ralph Lauren in 2010), these technological trends have been popping up in stores around the world, and could soon be available in a mall near you — if they aren’t already.

Last month at the National Retail Federation Convention in New York, Intel Corporation unveiled its Connected Store concept, a two-story, 2,400-square-foot experimental retail storefront, equipped with the company’s latest advances in interactive in-store shopping. By partnering with brands such as Adidas, Best Buy, Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, Intel introduced new ways that retailers can engage with their customers — and revealed what may be the future of shopping. (More on Techland: Kraft Scans Your Face To Determine What You Want to Eat)

For Adidas, Intel created the adiVERSE Footwear Wall, which allowed users to peruse more than 8,000 shoe styles in 3D on one of its multiple touchscreens. Not only does this enable customers to shop with ease using technology they are already comfortable with, but the adiVERSE system has the added benefit of helping Adidas track their total inventory and therefore allows them to offer greater product selection in stores. (Check out a video of the adiVERSE Footwear Wall below).

Alternately, Intel’s partnership with Procter & Gamble showcased new ways for advertisers to connect with shoppers on the spot through digital signage placed at the end of store aisles. When a customer is within 10 feet of one of these signs, it reacts by gathering metrics such as the person’s gender and age, enabling advertisers to target the consumer with relevant content (similar to Kraft Foods Meal Planning Solution). With the ability to tie into stores’ loyalty card programs, distribute e-coupons and interact with smartphones, this platform is mutually beneficial for consumers and advertisers, and already exists in stores around the globe.

So is experiential retail here to stay or is this just another passing trend? Judging by the success of campaigns launched by high-end brands ranging from Disney and Puma to Burberry and Da Beers, it looks like we’re going to be seeing more technologically advanced shopping options in the very near future. In fact, in Germany, a grocery store devoted to exploring these types of innovations — the Real Future Store — has been in operation since 2008 and enjoyed overwhelming success. Sales have reportedly increased by a solid 15% since the store’s inception, but whether this is due to the technological offerings or the inherent need to buy groceries remains unknown.

While retailers may be interested in trying these types of shopping experiences in their own stores, consumers might not be as quick to change their tried-and-true habits. For example, in a BBC report on the Real Future Store, customers enjoyed the recipe kiosks and were enchanted by the ocean sounds that complemented the seafood department, but were less enthused about an option to identify themselves at the register using just a fingerprint. Maybe that’s going a little too far, but at this point, retailers seem willing to experiment with new technologies to determine what works for their customers, and what doesn’t.

After all, experiential retail may make shopping smarter and even more entertaining, but there’s one thing that these new technologies still can’t do: Satisfy a woman’s intrinsic desire to shop, even when she doesn’t need anything at all.

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