IF you’re a typical shopper, then you’ll know the drill: either you shop online, or you splash the cash in a high street store. But how often has technology allowed you to combine the digital and the physical for a truly dazzling all-round experience?
Not often, if a new report from RetailMeNot, operator of vouchercodes.co.uk, is anything to go by. It found that three-fifths of retailers admit they’re struggling to connect the two, despite the existence of everything from contactless payment to phone apps that do anything from finding you clothes to bringing a stylist to your door. Which is why 73 per cent of UK retailers plan to increase their digital investment in the next 24 months. So, you’re on the cusp of a retail revolution. The bad news? Your bank account may suffer…
From brick to click
One company merging the in-store experience with digital is luxury fashion brand Ted Baker, which joined forces with interactive video firm Wirewax to create a shoppable video for its autumn/winter 2016 collection. The idea? Like an item, click on it and buy it. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the Mission Impeccable video lets users buy items directly on tedbaker.com with the help of in-video motion tracking. QVC released a similar shoppable music video featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor at the launch of its latest C Wonder collection earlier this year.
Social shopping is gaining momentum too, as evidenced by Instagram and its new ‘shop now’ feature, which lets you buy from brands selling tagged products without having to leave the app. It’s currently being tested in the US and could put an end to virtual window shopping — and your lunch break.
With Google’s influence diluted by popular apps like Instagram, its mission to become the ultimate selling tool for fashion retailers makes sense. Its Shop The Look prototype offers new ways to engage with consumers by pulling up photos of outfits posted by bloggers, brands and retailers into search results. Search for ‘party dress’, for example, click on a snap of a model rocking a potential winner and Google will show you where to buy it.
Can’t find what you’re looking for online? An app concept being tested by Visa and augmented-reality app Blippar lets copycat fashion lovers identify what other people are wearing, where items are sold and the cost, as well as giving them the option to buy just by snapping a photo. Sure, it’s a little creepy, but Visa calls it the future of clothes shopping and hopes to make it available later this year.
Try before you buy
British consumers still value the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience but are eager to see more technology implemented in high-street stores. That’s according to Barclays’ Retail Reality report, which found that 57 per cent of shoppers would be more likely to visit shops with virtual-reality or smart fitting rooms to try something on without having to remove so much as a sock.
OVS SpA in Milan is ahead of the curve with ‘magic’ fitting rooms that use touchscreen mirror displays with 360-degree video screens to let customers visualise options, take selfies in their outfits from different angles and compare them side by side.
Elsewhere, virtual services available as apps and web services let shoppers to virtually try on clothes. One clever app called Scarfi, which lets shoppers virtually try on Emma J Shipley’s range of scarves, is a great example. Using face detection to track users in real time, the app superimposes a scarf around their neck next to a conveniently placed ‘shop’ button.
Shoppers in Charlotte Tilbury’s Westfield London store can also have one of ten looks superimposed on their own face thanks to a ‘magic mirror’ that transforms into an interactive camera screen.
Additionally, HP envisions a future where fitting rooms are replaced with body scanners to create virtual avatars of individuals. These can then be immersed in a virtual wardrobe. It’s only a concept but, given fashion retailers have high hopes for the digitised human body, HP is working to make it a commercial success.
If it’s help with sizing you’re after, nifty shopping app EyeFitU browses the world’s biggest brands and matches items to your exact size profile. Users create a profile of their measurements and the app trawls thousands of brands, returning results that fit correctly.
British online fitting-room firm Metail has an interesting take on the digital fitting room made famous by Cher Horowitz in cult classic film Clueless: it enables shoppers to replicate the changing-room experience at home with personal avatars. Called MeModels, they’re based on your body measurements and can virtually try on outfits before you buy.
Even those who prefer traditional shops are catered for by technological start-ups like Preksh, which recreates physical stores online, allowing customers to virtually browse a 360-degree walkthrough and buy products.
The in-store experience
Mannequins have always been part of retailers’ visual strategy but Headworks has a new way to grab attention: a talking 3D holographic head fused with a life-size mannequin body. The world’s first intelligent mannequin, on display at London Technology Week, isn’t something you’ll see in your local Topshop but it lends an insight into how companies are futureproofing window displays.
And how about this? Imagine walking up to a billboard in a shopping centre to see an advertisement featuring your face. It sounds straight out of Minority Report but personalised billboard company Offer Moments is making it happen. This Internet of Things billboard knows who is walking towards it and generates a relevant advert in real time alongside your mugshot. It reads your social media posts (with your permission), scans the brands you love and pulls up matching products and offers nearby.
It goes without saying that technology has fundamentally changed the way retailers operate, yet we’re still at the start of a digital transformation. Tech has been a fantastic enabler in bridging the gap between online and bricks and mortar but, as shopping habits change, retailers need to innovate to engage customers or risk losing out to more digital-savvy brands.
Old-fashioned retail therapy is out and the next-gen shopping experience is in.
Google the window-dresser
As if window shopping wasn’t enough fun, Google has been experimenting with interactive shop windows with voice-activated special offers. Using the Google app on Android or iOS, shoppers speak the codeword displayed on a shop window into their smartphone to trigger free in-store rewards — a reasonable exchange for the embarrassment of talking to a window in public. First to offer this experience was Ted Baker during its recent Mission Impeccable campaign, but more retailers should follow in the near future.