Smart barcodes, social mirrors and customised ‘design as you shop’ is future of UK retail, finds Virgin Media Business event

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A socially connected, collaborative digital shopping mirror that links shoppers to their friends via video link, buying products by just speaking, and smart barcodes with full product information are just a few of the innovations set to change the way we shop over the next 30 years, according to experts at an event run by Virgin Media Business and Sir Richard Branson on Tuesday (July 1).

Thirty small firms joined business leaders from six sectors to set out the challenges, opportunities and trends of the future at the 30:30 Vision event chaired by Sir Richard.

The 30 small businesses have already been supported by Virgin Media Business during their start up stages as part of the Virgin Media Pioneers scheme, a free online community of support for thousands of UK entrepreneurs.

During the world’s first brainstorm on the EDF Energy London Eye, the large and small businesses predicted the enormous shifts that six key sectors will see over the next decades.

The visions predicted that the retail sector will see:

  • Changing room mirrors that allow people to connect with their friends via video link so they can see and comment on potential purchases
  • Technology that enables people to buy products by simply speaking aloud while on the go and have them shipped instantly
  • Products carrying smart codes with information on provenance, manufacture, materials and other information – not only quantity and price
  • Interactive changing room mirrors and digital glass surfaces that enable consumers to socially ‘connect, shop and share’ the retail experience with friends and family
  • Use of ‘instant’ 3D print and production technology to co-create the ultimate in personalised items with ‘real-time’ delivery at point of purchase

Alison Lancaster, interim marketing director, Macarthur Glen Group, and former head of marketing and merchandising at John Lewis.com, said: “At the moment, retail is dominated by excitement about technology – and we discussed how Internet of Things, mobile, data, wearable and voice activated tech and 3D printing will make retail a truly ‘anywhere, anytime and anyhow’ experience integrated with our day-to-day lives.

“However, even bigger trends emerged during our hour on the London Eye. We discussed the fact that people will work less and play more – meaning that retailers will need to focus on engaging and entertaining consumers with storytelling and creating memorable social shopping ‘experiences’ to win over consumers’ precious time.

“It is not often that businesses have an opportunity to think beyond the immediate future, so the event was a great opportunity to look further ahead – and to share ideas with a lively and very diverse group of young companies. I look forward to seeing how the conversations develop as their visions and ideas are shared online this month.”

Peter Kelly, managing director of Virgin Media Business, said: “Our country’s small businesses are real visionaries. Although the future is complex and unknown, they are ready to seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

“What we’ve seen today shows that emerging innovations and technologies are being taken on by all sizes of businesses and organisations to cement their competitive advantage and be truly successful. And what better place to discuss the future than high over the City?”

The 30:30 Vision event saw start-ups and challenger businesses join industry leaders from: media and entertainment, food, fashion and beauty, social enterprise, retail and healthcare.

The challenger businesses in retail were:

  • Avenue Imperial – the first virtual retail provider
  • Capito – a voice-activated mobile commerce company
  • The Grown Up Chocolate Company – a luxury chocolate manufacturer
  • Drive Daddy – a manufacturer of high-tech golf bags
  • HighSpirit Bags – makers of theft-proof rucksacks and travel bags

Six household names in business chaired the discussions aboard the Eye, including MacArthurGlen, Janssen Healthcare Innovation (part of Johnson & Johnson), AllSaints and BuzzFeed.

They then presented their ideas to Sir Richard and an audience of experts and media at a reception in County Hall on London’s South Bank.

Sir Richard compared the visions of the future to his experiences of the last three decades.

He said: “The last 30 years have seen dramatic developments in how businesses operate and interact with their customers – not least the enormous possibilities generated by the internet and digital technology. It’s great to see the imagination and enthusiasm of the 30:30 Vision participants leading the way on showing how that vision might take shape.”

Other points of discussion included a healthcare system which rebalances the relationship between doctors and patients and personalises healthcare; ordering food direct from farmers who are pulling up carrots as you click; and how we build trust around capturing our data to allow for greater personalisation of the services we use.