CES 2016: IOT, VR, AR & groceries  

Try to contain your excitement because the connected fridge is finally here. This future blend of refrigeration and grocery retail was launched at CES in Las Vegas.

MasterCard joined forces with Samsung to unveil their Groceries application for the Family Hub refrigerator, which boasts a 21.5 inch display allowing consumers to view their fridge contents without opening the door and order replacement items with taps and swipes.

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It’s smart too, having the capacity to learn what types of food and drink products consumers’ favour. In time, I suspect the capability will be added to automatically order the items consumed most regularly and bring new meaning to ‘out of stocks’.

The fridge will also tailor product recommendations as it learns. This will bring some solace for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands that have fought for attention on supermarket shelves for so long and are now trying to understand how to bring this same fight to eCommerce.

Shopper marketers must now ask the question, how do you win in grocery if your consumer is buying from their fridge? Part of that answer must be in recommendation and the other part will come through shoppable media that connects brand communication seamlessly with ecommerce. Groceries by MasterCard is on to this already and the companion app will work on smartphone, tablet or PC and enable consumers to add items to the household shopping list. It’s surely only a matter of time before we see a Groceries by MasterCard ‘buy now’ button on CPG brand communication.

The cynics out there will be quick to suggest it will be more than five years before the connected fridge poses a real commercial threat to traditional grocery retail models and, given the $5,000 price point for this Samsung model, they have a point.

Transforming shopping and ecommerce with VR and AR

Virtual reality applications are much cheaper to access, making them very big news at CES this year because they promise an experience that has previously been the stuff of science fiction. Gamers will be the big winners in this, but shoppers should expect to see more VR too.

A Google Cardboard headset costs around £5 and a consumer can already enter a far more immersive experience than is provided by a holiday brochure by coupling Cardboard with Google Maps or, as Nestle offered in its partnership with Google, the experience of touring a Brazilian coffee plantation.

VR has the opportunity to transform ecommerce, enabling a near real experience of a product that had only been available in-store until now. But we will also see more retailers using VR in their shops to educate, inspire and sell product benefits. This will provide a reason for new customers to visit stores and, if the experience is good, it will keep them coming back.

Augmented reality is set to enhance shopper experience and the ModiFace Mirror shows just what can be achieved in-store. The mirror allows users to change not only their makeup but also whiten their teeth, alter their eyebrows, reverse the signs of aging, and change eye color while also delivering a 3D makeup tutorial. At an expected $2,000 per unit it’s not cheap, but compared to the salary of additional sales associates it represents value.

I’m not a big fan of removing staff from the shop floor as they make the biggest difference in customer experience, but the idea of being greeted by a Segway advanced robot in aisle seven sounds like fun.

Innovations in cash management

Where retailers do need to manage cost is in cash management and a new addition to CES this year was the Digital Money Forum. Apple, Google and Samsung all see the future as being in smartphone-based payments that deliver fast, seamless and secure transactions for consumers. More exciting is the innovation at the intersection of wearable technology and payments.

MasterCard and fintech firm Coin announced a partnership  that will enable manufacturers to integrate mobile payments into pretty much anything able to accommodate an NFC chip. Fitness tracker-makers Atlas and Moov and smart watch producer Omate have already signed-up to MasterCard’s Digital Enablement Service and I am sure we will see many more products do so very soon.

All this talk of the future makes me feel my age and I’m starting to think those oldies who don’t own connected fridges and still use cash will be the only people left in our stores. Help is at hand though. The Genworth R701 Exoskeleton could become the must have tool to help retailers shape stores for people like me in our old age because wearing the product simulates what it feels like to be an elderly person. That brings to mind an apocryphal story involving a CEO who wore a pregnancy suit to shop his store and then conceived the idea of parent and baby parking.

This anecdote provides a reminder that while CES brings us fantastic insight into technology that might shape retail in the future, we must never forget that the customers who shop our stores are real people and that true transformation in retail experience is always grounded in human truths.

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2016: Back to the Future of Retail

This article was first published by Retail Week on 31st December 2015

Star Wars caught the imagination at the close of 2015 but the film franchise that holds greater resonance for retail is surely Back to the Future.

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October 21, 2015, was the date on which Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown arrived to the future in the second instalment of trilogy. The film debuted in 1989 and the passing of its most famous date last October prompted reflection on what had altered in 25 years. For retail the changes were seismic. In 1989, Walmart was the world’s third largest retailer with $25.8 billion in sales. Amazon didn’t exist. Neither did Alibaba. On 11th November 2015, Alibaba posted sales of $14.32 billion in a single day. Singles’ Day in China.

Given these significant transformations, just what will 2016 bring for retail?

Rubbish into fuel

The COP21 conference in Paris provided impetus for retailers to bring environmental issues into sharp focus as their customers demand transparency from business and value for their values. The reality in 2016 will be new stores that aim to be self-sufficient in energy, more electric delivery vehicles, and the roll out of charging points in car parks.

Robotic Retail

The movies might suggest plastic characters taking orders but the reality is more profound in the shape of Robotic process automation (RPA) in the supply chain and in-store systems that can provide digitally-led customer experiences.

 Machine-to-machine interfaces have the ability to predict and match a consumer’s needs to real-time availability, location, price and delivery. The customer experience is improved and increasingly personal, while the retailer can improve responsiveness while reducing costs and inefficiency.

Wearable tech

Assuming retailers have not replaced their staff with robots, the simplest way to connect them with the cloud and the rest of the salesforce will be a wearable device. This will simplify regular retail procedures and improve customer experience.

CXO trumps CMO

“We can’t advertise our way out of a problem we behaved our way into”. Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis, talking about the challenges the global retailer faces.

Proactive retailers are looking at their organizational behaviours to ensure they stay connected with their customers. UK retailer Game has taken an innovative approach to customer experience, not only building an award-winning app that brings together all its store tools and loyalty scheme into a very convenient mobile solution for the customer, but also empowering its managers to create a community of gamers around each store.

Everywhere, Instant & personal

People do not care about on-line, bricks and mortar or m-commerce, they want to move seamlessly between environments, platforms and devices to fulfill their shopping missions. They don’t care if something is advertising or design, shopper-marketing or promotion, social or CRM, they simply want the best experience.

Back to the Future of Retail will require brands and retailers to inspire the three human behaviours that drive purchase: search, shop and share. But, in tackling the most modern of shopping behaviours, they must not lose the shop keeping skills of the past. Know your customer and give them what they want, when they want it. Make it easy and convenient to buy and deliver value for their values.

Now what would Marty McFly make of all that?