Latest generation technologies are revolutionising consumers’ shopping experience, also thanks to the fusion of two worlds that just a few years ago seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum: online stores and physical ones. The British daily newspaperThe Guardian, explains it in a special feature, pointing out that bringing the online experience to physical stores is actually one of the most innovative best practices in the retail industry. The mix between the real and digital is the reply to the new consumption trends, which see customers increasingly mixing online and offline experiences.
There are some domains, not only personal ones, in which imagination still plays a fundamental role: visiting a new place, building a new living space, trying a product that you want to buy. Nobody can “test” a travel destination beforehand, understand whether an architectural solution really responds to their own needs, like no car dealer can instantly present a potential customer with their chosen car model, in their preferred colour and with the accessories requested.
Augmented reality is already transforming all this. Indeed it is helping to give concrete expression to business contexts that are impossible to commit to concepts of space and time, because they are difficult to implement according to the needs of the individual users. The new applications of augmented reality radically change the relationship between demand and supply. What was once a clear proposal, depending on what was available at the moment, today becomes an almost unlimited array of choices, made possible by a pair of glasses and a smartphone in which people can get an idea, with a simulation, of objects that they might possess in the future.
One of the sectors that is gaining more benefit from augmented reality than others is the retail industry. Let us imagine for instance to be in a department store with our tablet, and to be able to find the position of a specific product without having to look through miles and miles of shelving, to know the available variants (sizes, colours, etc.), to read reviews of other customers, or suggestions for alternative products. The idea in general is to use online tools to enrich the consumer’s in-store experience, in terms of rapid access to the information and customising how it is processed.
A true revolution in the way that people interact with the objects, using specially-built platforms to accommodate virtual rooms and faithful reproductions of stores with the original ones. It is not a question of locking the product experience within the walls of a headset, but of following technological trends to provide a better service, a unique mixture between online scouting and in-store purchasing.
The true ‘change of gear’ that technology allows in managing the shops is, however, connected to the capacity of collecting and processing customer preference data. The Guardian quotes the use of biometric technologies, obviously complying with the laws on privacy, capable of capturing collective information on the behaviour of people in front of shop windows and inside shops using sensors: which products attract most attention, how people spread themselves out in the spaces, which shelves are most visited, and so on.
This is obviously precious information, once processed with Big Data analysis solutions, to define supplies and layout of the retail spaces more effectively. Ideally each interaction of the customer should serve to improve their knowledge to better satisfy their needs.
The objective? To connect the physical world with the digital one, to make the customer experience even more engaging through marketing instruments applied to technology. Apart from learning the characteristics of a product (or in the case of food the ingredients), correlated elements can also be shown, thus replacing the personal shopper, which becomes contextual and interactive: one of the best replies to the needs of the hyper-connected consumer.