The future of commerce is live retail. Here’s how it will happen at scale, by Jamil Ahmed, director and engineer at data transfer giant Solace
It’s coming to the end of a Thursday afternoon in the office. A push notification reminds you of dinner plans at 19.00, a monthly chance to catch up with an old friend. You haven’t booked ahead, but both decide to go back to the popular ceviche bar on terrace at Westfield after a quick Whatsapp consultation.
Once wrapping up all the actions for the day, you jump on the Underground to head over there. Scrolling through Instagram to pass the time, a few posts from your favourite accounts catch your eye and attract the double-tap. At the restaurant you find a table for two ready and waiting, where their offer on dinner and drinks just happens to be your go-to favourites.
After dinner, you both stroll through the shopping centre when a digi-screen blasts a live-video of a model wearing the jacket you liked on social earlier. Your exact size and signature colour is being held in the dressing room when you decide to enter the store and, after trying it on, there’s no need to wait at the cash register. You breeze out wearing your latest purchase and continue your evening….
While we can definitely agree the bank account of our shopper has taken a hit in this scenario, what’s not so clear is how this could become a reality, or why it should. What we describe is the not so distant future of Live Retail – a model which blends the power and ease of online shopping with the thrill and engagement of physical stores. And all it needs to happen is some smart architecture connecting the data we already have.
For consumers it offers the ultimate tailored shopping experience:
- Personalised stock which caters to exact tastes and sizes
- Payless stores which remove the hassle of queues
- Loyalty card models which give customers an automatically calculated discount
- A sleek and seamless experience as easy as online shopping
For brands and retail centres it offers:
- A removal of barriers to purchase present in physical retail (queues to pay, generic stock)
- Social media advertising models with a direct link to results (eg. sales % paid to the influencer).
- Opportunity to cater to the highly selective consumer market of today
- Opportunity to upsell on-site experiences (automatic table reservations)
Let’s explore the foundations that will bring Live Retail to a shopping centre near you soon…
- The power of personalization
Consumers have long shown a preference for personalized products: any time a brand releases the chance to have a name printed on a regular product, or even just select their own combination of chocolates, we see runaway sales figures.
These are perfect for one-off, limited-time-only experiences but technology is now making rapid personalisation possible on a global scale.
- John Lewis ran their Build Your Own Quality Street experience to huge success. However, the product was only available in the flagship store with long wait times due to manual processes, therefore limiting the sales model.
- Coca-Cola have taken things a step further with Freestyle – a customizable soda experience
- Payless purchases
The idea of going cashless is no longer revolutionary – most rich economies and tech-driven cities have created the digital and public infrastructures to process the majority of transactions with a smartphone or a piece of plastic in a few microseconds.
However, payless purchases will remove a further barrier making the shopping experience smoother and more convenient.
- Amazon Go allows customers to leave the store without paying. The concept and the trust this builds with customers is paving the way for the future of Live Retail https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/21/amazons-first-automated-store-opens-to-public-on-monday
- Brands can then offer immediate customer loyalty programmes which deliver final price points tailored to each buyer – demonstrating how valued that customer is right there and then
- Fast fashion and condensed buying cycles
Aside from attracting customers, such refined supply chains offer huge savings for brands by reducing the amount of unwanted stock that needs to go to sale or outlet stores. Producing only what’s needed is also an important consideration as we become more aware of fashion waste and environmental concerns.
- Zara have developed a hyper-short supply chain cycle that allows them to tailor their stock directly to live macro trends of their buyers.
- Nike is no stranger to the importance of personalization to tap into buyers desire, with their flagship stores long offering unique trainers and experiences. Their recent acquisition of Celect will further personalize the products on offer with predictive purchase analysis. https://techcrunch.com/2019/08/07/nike-buys-an-ai-startup-that-predicts-what-consumers-want/
E-commerce is going nowhere, and for many brands the overheads needed to cover the costs of a brick-and-mortar store are just too high. However, high-end and global brands need to maintain a physical presence to keep their discerning customers loyal. Live Retail will deliver the seamless experience we have come to expect from slick, tailored online shopping.
Although online shopping has no doubt impacted the highstreet and a number of major brands, experience destinations such as Westfield London and Westfield Stratford have welcomed half a billion visitors over the past 10 years, generating more than £15 billion in sales and its momentum clearly remains strong. Their success lies in their commitment to keep reinvesting profits to re-develop a high-end, ultramodern retail experience, turning the centres into destinations in their own right, and making their services hyper convenient for shoppers.
- We have the data lakes in place, but we need the digital infrastructure to make the interactions rapid, secure and reliable to deliver Live Retail at this scale. Brands and businesses need to invest to keep pace with the future on the horizon.