Next Store: The Future Has Arrived

A “new” retail concept embraces the latest advancements in digital technologies
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Posted July 16, 2015

Have you ever wondered why there are so few examples of a fully realized and executed digital experience (DX)-based design in the retail industry? This has been a hot subject for several years, and one I’ve certainly championed here in this column; but now, we may have a new model to follow.

I recently became aware of a fresh retail concept being developed with digital experience at the forefront. Since my days leading the digital experience retail tours at the National Retail Federation (Washington, D.C.) annual conference, and now writing this regular column, it’s been difficult to point to many retailers who weren’t just treating digital as a novelty, and few new brands have been created with digital engagement at their essence. And now, DX design would finally have a true case study to be showcased as the next model of excellence.

While limited details are available, some of the new concept’s highlights made me realize this was something I’d like to experience.

RETHINKING THE EXTERIOR

Often considered for interior applications, digital elements are bringing the shell of retail environments to a whole new level. Not just a bevy of screens, but rather, a myriad of other technologies that, when stitched together, form a compelling and memorable experience.

LED panels are embedded into sections around exterior doorways and morph into shapes, patterns and messages that create an ever-changing portal. A new concept for a large-format brand, this messaging will communicate the interior merchandise mix to passersby, as rich as anything you could find online. 

Signage is expected to increasingly utilize LED channel letters, the latest in digital signage, which can deliver a brand’s name, each letter defined on a dynamic canvas – from a brand’s signature colors to its seasonal campaigns. Upon crossing the storefront’s boundary, cleverly hidden digital Go Before Optics (GOBO) projectors will activate for personal messaging, synced to those who’ve signed up for the feature on their smart device.

Store windows are also taking digital visual merchandising to a new level. Although they’ve always visually enticed the customer, in today’s attention-starved climate, retailers have to appeal deeply to the senses using neuro-marketing techniques.

Digitally controlled scent machines use proximity sensors to push out the scent when engagement is appropriate. Sound speakers provide multiple audio zones that connect with shoppers in ways a traditional visual presentation alone can’t achieve. Storefront glass is even being used to bounce sound to pre-directed points.

Advancements in lighting controls offer a personalized lighting experience, for example, synching to a shopper’s favorite sports team colors during key games. By intermixing digital elements with directed sound and scent, retailers are recognizing the importance of digitally driven VM, and will continue to deploy these new, exciting elements that tempt customers to come in and shop. 

INSIDE APPEAL

Digital wayfinding has come a long way, fusing mobile device application use with in-store displays. This brand will be showcasing the latest wall-to-floor displays that will finally take digital wayfinding to the next level, allowing the shopper to use the near-field communication (NFC) feature and turn their smartphone into a personal navigation unit to help maximize their time in-store. 

In the new world of anticipated personalized services, the inter-use of mobile devices, coupled with an interface that’s fine-tuned to a shopper’s unique experience, uncovers an advanced level of customer service. By tying its customer relationship management (CRM) system to a consumer’s individual journey, new items are matched to prior purchases or searches to help maximize their time and previous investments. On-demand stylists are another helpful addition to those who need more attention or simply a confirmation that their purchases meet their demands.

Driving e-commerce features are now showing up in the brick-and-mortar world. “Smart” digital signage will eventually be universal, offering deeper access to curated specials and educational opportunities. Merchants will pair scents and sounds to content shown. Hit the “personal service” button on-screen, and in a matter of seconds, a personal shopper is speaking to you in real-time. It’s just like online, and that’s the point. 

More than ever, fitting rooms will use smart mirrors to become part of your virtual-closet experience. The CRM system is able to pull information from the radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in garments and create a closet view of any items you’ve purchased in the past two years. Touch the glass and you can drag a shirt into full-size view to visualize how it might look with those pants you bought a year ago. 

Smart merchandising will help gain consumer focus on the products and more closely connect the merchant to shoppers’ needs.

COME CLEAN

Time for full disclosure: The preceding account isn’t an actual store, but rather, ideas being shown and discussed in “digital labs” around the world. Unfortunately, there are no digital labs open to the industry within the United States.

Red Design Group (Melbourne, Australia), however, has opened the ideal space, aptly called “Gen2 Retail Evolution Lab.” A departure from the manufacturer showroom feel of other labs, the G2 lab is a partnership between AOpen Inc. (Taipei, Taiwan) and Red Design Group’s spinoff company Nuon (Melbourne, Australia), and offers store-like inspiration at its foundation.

“The lab is a purpose-built environment that allows organizations to experience the latest in digital technology first-hand,” said Roy Tavenor, managing principal, Red Design Group. “We were simply frustrated that, as pro-technology designers, we had no neutral place to take our clients.”

According to Tavenor, the collaboration has been such a success that even Google execs have taken notice.

What are your thoughts on the ideal retail space in North America, and what would you like to see included in this environment? Please write me at bdyches@openeyeglobal.com and we’ll share the feedback at the International Retail Design Conference (Austin, Texas; Sept. 9-11). 

Brian Dyches is partner and director, digital strategy & experience design at OpenEye Global, a strategy, design and consulting studio headquartered in South Amboy, N.J. Follow him on Twitter @briandyches.

Don't miss Brian's session ("DDX (Digital Design Experience) as a Winning Business Strategy") at IRDC this year, Sept. 9-11 in Austin, Texas! For more information about IRDC, visit IRDConline.com.