SXSW: 10 inventions that will revolutionize retail

Dan Whitmarsh, head of technology at The White Agency, fills us in on his highlight from day four at South By Southwest – how new technology can, is, and will be used to define retail in the years to come.

 

With the decline of standard shopping malls, due to more and more people buying online, how will they reinvent themselves over the next few years to stop from becoming ‘zombie malls’. It has been stated that within the next 10 to 15 years the typical mall in USA, unless completely reinvented, will be history.

“Retail guys are going out of business and ecommerce will be the place where everyone buys. Software eats retail,” says Marc Anderson.

The future doesn’t just happen though and needs to be carved out by people and their strategy. With this is mind, organisations are creating retail future out of technology centres. An example of this is Move in Sydney – a technology store focusing around mobile tech.

At the talk, ‘10 Inventions that will Revolutionize Retail’, the panelists discussed five known unknowns regarding technology going forward:

  1. Moore’s Law still holds (every single 18 months we have a doubling of performance),
  2. computing power will become almost free,
  3. computer size will become almost invisible,
  4. computers will be all seeing – able to understand space and distance (3D), and everything will be connected
  5. Data centres are what ties all this together – they are what will enable everything to be connected.
  6. The talk came with the preface that the future is already here, it’s just not well distributed (for example Apple Pay, smart vending).

So here are the 10 points with some examples:

1. Augmented reality

  • Store through transparent screen that only shows you what you need, and
  • individualized/personalised experiences using beacon technology.

2. Shop anywhere, serve anywhere

  • One click or one thought to buy something, and
  • Bluetooth chip: you snap a pic of what someone is wearing, it recognises the clothes and you are one click away from buying.

3. Smart vending

  • Go to a touch screen, choose what you want and the product comes, and
  • An example is the Nepresso vending machine in Barcelona airport. It looks like a store but is like a large ATM that vends coffee.

4. Sentient stores

  • You can interact with the stores, and
  • they can offer guide dots for the visually impaired.

5. Smart shelving

  • You can pick something up within a store and a screen above displays data personalised where possible.

6. On-demand merchandise

  • 3D printing: take a picture and out pops a 3D version of the model.

7. Off the grid retail

  • Solar powered cooler (save the planet by drinking beer!)

8. NFC and wearable payables

  • Pay with Apple Watch,
  • Barclays in the UK has NFC wristbands that enables tap and go payment, and
  • fashion wearables: the whole band becoming a screen.

9. Vibrant data

  • Everyone carries around invisible data, and
  • now you can take this and serve people better.

10. Artificial intelligence

  • Digital avatars that are available to convey emotion, and
  • RoZie the Robot, your shopper assistant (scary!).

One thing that technology doesn’t have and will not have is the ‘nose for retail’. A human has the sense of the value of the brand – technology won’t replace this.

I believe these 10 points show that there is still a future in retail within store and, technology-wise, it’s very exciting. Retailers just need to seize the day and not be scared to adopt new technology!