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It’s easy to buy into the idea that in-person sales and e-commerce are a zero sum game. But many companies are seeing opportunity in the growing space between digital sales and the physical experience of a saleroom. Instead, creative minds at many top brands are shaking up this idea by enhancing brick and mortar stores with digital tools and skills, Innovators in commerce are designing high-tech spaces so that the ease and breadth of online shopping can complement instead of competing with the physical discovery of visiting a showroom.
Search and Browse Capabilities
At its most basic level, digital retailing can serve as an interactive catalog for the shop or shops around the visitor. Customers can have the satisfaction of bringing a purchase home that day and finding unexpected surprises, as well as feeling they have a comprehensive view of all products offered. Together with eBay, a lab at Westfield Mall in San Francisco pioneered screens where visitors can either shop directly from their phone or look up products to find in stores. These interfaces combine focused searching and browsing for the most satisfying aspects of both online or in-person methods of shopping.
Customization and Media Integration
Digital experiences inside stores can also enhance the experience of physical products, especially when a brand offers customization. Puma is pioneering this integration through the extensive use of the iPad. Beyond typical search and sales functions, the screens are used to set up customization stations that are unparalleled by either traditional online or in-store experience. These ‘Creative Factory’ installations serve as workshops-boutiques for customers to feel materials and design and publish their unique products. Similar small-scale technology zones can be installed flexibly as free-standing or integrated into grid wall or slat wall systems or panels. Visitors can view renderings of designs created with materials in front of them, and then publish them on social networks–all capabilities unique to the creative, fun experience of integrated digital retail.
Some up and coming retail technology does look like the digital shopping markets portrayed in the Jetsons. Companies are developing and testing robots that can ask you what they can help you with, or roll through the aisles to pick up items for purchases. Experiments backed by Lowe’s hardware store combine 3D scanner and self-roaming technology that assists customers to decide on and locate the products they are hoping to buy. Already stocking the warehouses of companies like Amazon, robots that can replace simple tasks will become commonplace in just a few years. A positive factor of this intervention is robot’s ability to work around existing retail infrastructure that has already been successful. Companies are trying to develop robots that can navigate in-place display cases or other service goods like mannequins or clothing racks. Soon, the research challenge will be to design robots that aren’t startling, and integrate with shoppers as they traverse the aisles.