Addressing the ubiquitous empty mall
Just about anywhere in America, the sight of a half-empty or deserted shopping or strip mall is fairly common. There are numbers to support the idea that malls are struggling: By 2022, 25 percent of malls in the U.S. are expected to fold, according to Credit Suisse. This emptiness coincides with an increased interest in experiences: Consumers want to enjoy the process of shopping and have a memorable experience doing so. One way to add crowd-pleasing elements to the shopping experience is through technology, and malls throughout the country (and overseas – Dubai is investing in a $2 billion tech-heavy destination mall) are integrating immersive tech experiences into shopping, including:
- Smart fitting rooms with interactive mirrors
- Curated, personalized fashion collections
- Hologram technology that places you inside your new kitchen or bathroom virtually
- Virtual reality that enables you to “try before you buy,” then purchase from anywhere in the world
Merging digital and physical experiences
Blending the virtual and physical worlds isn’t a new concept, but retailers and brands are getting more creative than ever in their endeavor to provide a seamless experience to their shoppers. While it isn’t live in a store yet, biometric technology like facial recognition and eye scanners can immediately identify a shopper when he walks in the store, and prepare items or discounts based on the shopper’s online browsing history. In its Manhattan store, Sleep Number provides customers with a digital map of the best sleep experiences in the city, as well as heat map displays that show off the mattress’s temperature control technology and how it connects to other smart tech.
Tech in your pantry
The food industry has been late to the game when it comes to integrating technology, but new developments are helping this sector match pace with other retailers. Stores like Wal-Mart and Amazon are test driving (no pun intended) smart shopping carts that help shoppers navigate aisles and locate difficult to find food items. Self-checkout lines are more popular than ever, and brands like Amazon are taking that concept a step further with RFID-powered cashier-less checkout. Meanwhile, Kroger’s and BJ’s Wholesale Club are pioneering “scan-and-go” technology that lets customers calculate their purchases via app while shopping. Barcode scanning apps also give consumers a quick price check as well as additional product info like origin and food certification level (e.g. organic). Grocery delivery is also being reinvented: Services like Uber and Lyft are partnering on delivery, building on apps like Peapod and Instacart, and drones are beginning to provide immediate delivery of fresh food orders.
Augmented and virtual reality take center stage
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) aren’t new to retail; companies like Ikea, LEGO, and Converse were early drivers of the technology and continue to perfect it. In 2010, Converse built an app that allowed shoppers to try on shoes virtually; in 2013, IKEA used its store catalog to help shoppers place furniture in their rooms, and LEGO provided in-store kiosks to enable its shoppers to see the finished product. Retailers and brands are now building on these pioneering efforts with new iterations of AR/VR: Wayfair, for example, has built an AR app that lets customers view their products in the room they’ll be in; Lowe’s recently started testing an immersive app that guides customers on their DIY projects.
This is an exciting time to be in retail, whether as a store, a brand, a software provider, or a consumer. We’re only beginning to crack the code on the potential for technology in the space, and the possibilities for how developments like immersive AR/VR will develop in the next five to 10 years is virtually unlimited.
Keep an eye on our blog for more updates on what’s happening in the retail tech world.