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Is there such a thing as digital retail?


Martin Oisterschek, director of innovation at Serviceplan Group Middle East, looks at where the code meets the road in the future of shopping

Hear me out before you turn that page, because chances are, digital retail may not be what you think it is. It certainly goes beyond simply replacing a point of sale poster with a digital screen, and most definitely it transcends the host of technologies that actually enable it. Why? Because digital retail is still “retail” at the end of the day, and the retail floor is still a retail floor – a tangible physical space for actual customer interaction.

Digital retail is all about enhanced customer experiences on the shop floor. It can take the form of an ever-so-popular virtual reality experience, it can be served along the lines of gamification, it can be an online shopping experience inside an actual retail shop, or literally a walk-in online store. Let’s look each of these possibilities in detail.

Virtual, augmented, or mixed reality is the hottest tool around that can be used to showcase future collections. In-store, it can be used for augmented fittings – to show colour palettes and varying textures, and even to simulate different lighting situations to judge your retail picks outdoors in broad daylight or indoors with party lights.

For example, a “harmony of experiences” can now be offered to discerning customers via a concept called WeShop*, an intelligent sales space linking the virtual and the real world of point of sale (POS). Customers in store can experience tailored POS services, set up as integrated digital eco-systems, including the use of beacon technology to enable personalised services and RFID tag product recognition in conjunction with interactive mirror displays, all connected to devices set up with access to digital platforms to enable a seamless path to purchase.

Let’s break that down for our customer. We’ll call him Ahmed. Ahmed walks past one of his favourite shops, and immediately the digital shop window speaks directly to him, showing him the latest collection in and out of store. A navigation system takes him directly to the desired product display, and a tablet beside it shows him other colours and styles. The mirror in the fitting room remembers what he has previously bought, suggests similar styles and, on request, displays various combinations while a personal fashion consultant recommends suitable accessories. If his desired style is no longer in stock, the customer service counter knows where to find it, and suggests delivering the goods directly to Ahmed’s home. Via a mobile payment system, such as Google Wallet, Samsung Pay or Apple Pay, Ahmed’s transaction becomes seamless, cashless, and conveniently connected to his loyalty benefits.

Gamification can be a direct path to loyalty. Using elements of play and popular game mechanics such as points, badges, rewards, ranks, competitions, and other incentives in nontraditional contexts, it is a subtle but fun way to get consumers engaged the same way they devoured the likes of Candy Crush and Pokemon Go. If done right, it can lead to countless upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Gamification in retail comes from a simplistic insight that believes even the smallest of incentives can enable people to make an extra effort to do something they would have otherwise refused to. Think Nike+Fuel and how your sweat can be used to achieve levels and gain trophies and badges you can flaunt on social.

Another example: the idea of gamification can be extended to a seemingly unlikely industry, banking and finance. WeFinance* uses simplification and gamification to transform traditional branch offices into modern POS areas. Simplification comes in using digital screens to make an intangible financial product ‘touchable’, allowing customers to explore financial options and packages at the touch of a finger in privacy and at their own convenience, with or without a financial consultant. Once needed, a customer can opt for either a virtual or a personal consultation in the privacy of, say, private retail floor pods. The pods can then double as a lounge offering a discreet retreat for a confidential conversation with one of the consultants on-site.

Gamification can be rendered in the form of digital island consoles, for example, that give you city-by-city views of all available real estate properties you can invest in. Walking into the private customer lounge of his bank, Ahmed can view an expanse of Dubai’s hottest properties on the console, helping him assess whether a Dubai Canal property would give more favourable returns over a property on the Palm. Doesn’t it sound like a real-life version
of Monopoly?

In stock-investment scenarios, Ahmed can virtually compete with other virtual investors as he is given real-time and real-world stock options and scenarios. Using levels and badges, he can virtually see his ranking and gauge his abilities without literally breaking the bank.

Technologies including customer service via chat bots, queue management services at supermarkets, motion-capturing cameras, and
an ever-growing list of high-tech ideas, all prove that digital retail is your new hybrid, demonstrating how the real and the virtual worlds can be combined – albeit intelligently – in brick-and-mortar retailing to the end benefit of the consumer himself.

*WeShop and WeFinance are digital retail concepts developed for brands and financial institutions by the Serviceplan Group, in partnership with Cisco and Vitrashop, among others.