Thursday, December 10, 2015

Future of Retail; Bringing the store to you

Google Glasses coupled with 3D printing opened up a whole new dimension of shopping. I had written about this and a blue sky idea was that people might move away from purchasing products to buying 3D print designs and make their own products at home. This is very much a possibility in the future when the materials and composites required for various kinds of 3D printed products as also 3D printers become main stream and a part of most homes.

In the meantime there is another interesting technology which might merge the physical and online retail worlds to give you the best of both.

Shoppers opt for eTailing because of price, convenience and range. The competitive advantage of convenience is coupled by the fact that online retail is not constrained by physical store size. This enables them to offer a far wider and deeper range, called as a long tail of merchandise.

Shoppers also take the trouble of going to physical stores in order to browse and have a shopping experience which consists of “Touch, Feel and See”.

Imagine a scenario where you want to shop for a new dress and you sit back in your recliner and the store actually comes to you and enables you to shop. Is that not a fantastic combination of physical and online retail? 

Is that possible?

There are emerging technologies which enable visualization which has led to innovations like virtual dressing rooms. However, a new technology when coupled with visualization might actually bring the shop to you in the near future.

Microsoft has been working on a technology called HoloLens. 

Very simply put, this creates a 3 dimensional holographic view for the viewer and they can interact with the same. This video would give you a better idea about HoloLens.

How is this relevant and applicable to retail?

Retailers can leverage this platform to create 3 dimensional stores which can be accessed by the shopper in the comfort of their home. Creating such 3D stores is already possible and being used for a different purpose. Today there are several IT solutions that create a 3 dimensional rendering of the store and make is quite realistic. See the first video to get an idea about how 3D store would look like and the second video to see how Carrefour has used Google Street View to create a virtual shopping experience using kiosks and hand held devices. 

The logical next step would be to project this as a 3D immersive hologram in the coming years.

Combine these technologies and it would be possible to bring home the store. Add on technologies which are being worked on like delivering sensory influences such as smell and a feel of touch. Voila, your store will be as real as it can be and more importantly, exclusive to you.

In such a scenario, if you want to buy a new dress you might sit back and slip on your HoloLens device or some other similar device and the store comes alive before you. You can browse, use visualization to try on dresses, check out accessories, compare prices and much more.

As compared to printing products at home, bringing the store home seems much closer to reality. This is all the more pertinent in the current context where both physical and online retailers realize the need to be present on both platforms. A giant like Amazon has opened physical stores and several physicals stores are in the online space.

Bringing a store home is now possible and a retailer who gets their act together to make this happen might establish a strong competitive advantage, especially in India.