Covid-19 hasn't just forced retailers to consider brand new approaches (I've told you about it several times), but has widened the gap between those who adopted them and those left behind.
“This is the time for business leaders to invest in understanding the innovation landscape that will frame the future of retail. Those on the right side of the revolution and the sustainability agenda will thrive ”. He says it James Bidwell, co-founder of the consulting and innovation company Reset, and he can give lessons on the future of retail.
Physical retailers will continue to face the same challenges as before Covid (such as adding value to the in-store experience versus the convenience of online shopping) with the added task of making it secure. In-store experiences will continue to be a key differentiator for brands adopting the right mix of customer-centric and data-driven approaches.
Innovations or accelerations?
The innovations covered in this post have the common trait of continuing to highlight the acceleration of trends that were already gaining ground before the pandemic. Live streaming sales, creative influencer marketing and virtual technologies, in the constant search for a balance between safety and convenience.
Anyway, here are seven innovations that represent this broad spectrum of trends that are shaping the future of retail.
1 The most followed new live streamers in China? They are virtual
Live streaming e-commerce is big business in China, especially after the pandemic has started. More and more people are avoiding physical stores and prefer online shopping.
Now live streaming is merging with another trend: computer generated and preprogrammed 3D models that use motion graphics for live streaming. A growing number of e-commerce platforms and brands are using “anime” style virtual characters to attract a younger generation of shoppers.
In April, the famous virtual singer Luo Tianyi (has nearly 4,6 million followers on Weibo) hosted a live streaming campaign on Taobao, alongside one of China's most influential live streamers, Li Jiaqi.
The duo also hosted a second show in May, which attracted nearly 3 million spectators. On May 1st, Alibaba Tmall e-commerce platform added virtual idols Luo Tianyi e Yuezheng Ling to a live streaming event. Success in China, to summarize, is going virtual.
Social shopping combines physical and digital worlds
The British brand Burberry worked with Tencent, a leading Chinese tech company, for a brand new social shopping experience.
Shenzen's Burberry store offers a powerful blend of real-life shopping with online interaction and special features.
The store uses QR codes on physical products to connect with the digital life of shoppers. Once scanned on a smartphone, the codes reveal style tips, points to unlock exclusive content and additional information about the brand and its products.
Collaboration is accessed through a mini-program available in WeChat. Shoppers use the program to reserve one of the store's three dressing rooms, with each booking including a pre-selected range of clothes to try on and a custom playlist. Table reservations at the in-store bar and appointments with stylists are also completed in-app.
3 Storefront creates virtual "store courses"
If shoppers can't visit a course full of shops, why not take the course full of shops to shoppers?
This is the idea behind Streetify, an e-commerce platform launched in late March, just in time to help companies respond to the crisis. In the case of this platform, the “physical” aspect added to the digital model is the aggregation by geographical criterion. Users of the app and website can actually choose the street they want to visit and can swipe left or right to “walk” up and down.
Virtual storefronts are shown and they can click on any store to go to its corresponding website on Streetify. Once inside the "store", consumers can see all the special offers, offers and promotions collected from top business sites such as Groupon and Rakuten.
Business owners can also post messages in their shop windows, announcing offers, delivery options, goods in stock, and more.
4 Checkout app
The pandemic has already cost the retail sector a sea of money and millions of jobs. Showfields, a New York City startup, was no exception, having always focused heavily on physical interaction with customers in the store. With the reopening of their Soho flagship store, those at Showfields had to innovate, trying to bring the old interaction experience into an app called Magic Wand.
Magic Wand is a shopping assistant for use in the store: a solution that we will often see in the future of retail. The app will provide additional information on the products, just frame them with the smartphone. To make a purchase, items are added to a digital shopping cart, and you can check out, pay by card, and leave without interacting with a store employee.
5 Extreme transparency on the supply chain
In the future of retail, customers will be more aware of where products come from and retailers will need to be more transparent about their global supply chains.
Evolution Design Lab, based in California, produces “vegan” footwear without animal skins and with natural fibers.
It has created a digital platform to be used both internally and with all supply partners. The software includes tailor-made portals for factories, buyers, and anyone else. The goal is to ensure that all partners have access to accurate, real-time information on every stage of production.
From the first case study, Evolution Design Lab reported a 75% reduction of development costs on footwear samples e an increase in 300% in sales on the product line.
Social e-commerce that turns home shopping into a group activity
Squadded allows users to connect with groups of friends and shop online together, chatting while virtually trying on different outfits or discussing items.
Once installed, users can log into participating sites and navigate. The platform allows users to add items to a wishlist, ask friends for advice, and see what other users are buying.
Squadded offers brands the opportunity for higher conversion rates - people tend to buy more when they shop with friends, according to research firm Nielsen.
7 The WhatsApp Chatbot helps customers find the perfect time to shop
In an effort to provide a solution to in-store queues, supermarket chain Lidl has launched a WhatsApp chatbot in Ireland. With the chatbot, customers can chat and find the quietest moments in their local stores.
Customers simply send the chatbot a message on WhatsApp indicating the time and day they intend to visit the store. Using real-time data and customer transaction numbers, the chatbot will respond with an automated message that notifies the sender if the particular day and time is usually a quiet, medium or busy time to shop.
The future of retail is also more aware of its presence in the store.