I have often pondered what the retailer of the future may look like. The current struggle for most is to create an omnichannel where the online environment blends with the high street – allowing the ease of online retail with the realities of being able to see and touch products.
But where else might it go? I have seen retailers in South Korea that created virtual supermarket shelves inside a city metro station, allowing shoppers to scan items with their smart phone while waiting for a train – neatly blending the idea of physical shelves with virtual orders.
Now Tesco has created a virtual store within the Oculus Rift virtual reality system (recently bought by Facebook for $2bn). It might offer the option to pop into a virtual store while on a train journey or even from the office, but is this kind of sci-fi solution really going to take off?
I think that for most people, the existing online store is good enough anyway. If you want to buy a litre of milk, it’s easy to search for milk and to select what you want, without needing to simulate what you would do in a real store.
Where I do think that technology will move into real stores further is in augmented reality. Google Glass is already available to regular consumers and now they are striking deals with fashion brands – so there will soon be versions of Glass designed by brands such as Ray Ban or Oakley.
When this kind of discovery tool is common, retailers in physical stores should explore how they can help customers by offering information in real time. Customers should be able to find offers, find a product in an unfamiliar store, find recipes or advice or reviews and all then they are in front of the actual products, thanks to a tool like Glass.
This would combine the best of the information available online with the real physical experience of visiting a store. When is it going to happen? I would be surprised if some retailers have not already started exploring this kind of option now.
Photo by Sarah Roth licensed under Creative Commons