All I want for Christmas is a virtual twin

Is anyone happy to predict what might be coming in 2017?  I suspect not. 2016 was full of unexpected surprises and is best epitomized by the new Toblerone, it still has peaks, but the gaps between them are bigger and more divisive, just like our politicians.

The nation is split over which retailer has made the best Christmas TV spot, M&S or Aldi, but it has not stopped shoppers from shopping. John Lewis might not have made the best TV ad for the festive season, but it did have the biggest ever week in its trading history this Black Friday. And the only prediction I can safely make for 2017 is that the retail event will be back next year. Black Friday has usurped the traditional ‘must have toys’ list and is fast becoming the official start of the festive shopping season spree. Next year we will see greater competition for shoppers and greater focus on their three budgets; time, money and frustration.

For the first time this year I received digital calendar invites for Black Friday events. Intrusive yes, but an indication of how far retailers will go to cut through the promotional clutter to get time with the WIGIG conscious shopper.

This Black Friday also saw a 12% rise in online spending according to retail analysts IMRG. Shoppers will always want value, but that is no longer simply price x quality. They want simplicity and convenience and at the moment that is being delivered (literally) by going online.

Of course, there are many retailers who still understand the vital role of physical stores as environments where shoppers can touch, feel and experience their product assortment and many more that will complain that their stores have simply become showrooms. But the online world is changing, today all the talk might be of the ‘internet of things’ but it is rapidly becoming about experience. The Internet of Experience.

VR and AR are two technologies that people are predicting will transform the shopping experience and we have seen many retailers experiment with solutions in 2016. John Lewis is bringing its Christmas TV story to life in store right now with VR, whilst DS Automobiles showcased a solution at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show which could have a more everyday application in the car buying process. I have no doubt that this will continue to evolve and the virtual showroom will become a permanent fixture both online and in-store for many retailers.

img_0057But perhaps the most interesting application of VR for retailers is not in enriching customer experience, but in helping them in their internal process. There are more and more retailers and brand owners that have VR cave solutions to help packaging design and merchandising programs to deliver the perfect shelf and perfect shop. The next generation of technology will mean this no longer has to be a linear process based on an idealised store layout, instead key stakeholders will be able to come together and collaborate around a virtual twin of an actual store and do that in real time by connecting it to digital shelf labels in a physical store, as is possible with the 3DEXPERIENCE Twin. I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.

I’m not going to make any predictions for 2017, but if I was a retailer, a virtual twin would be at the top of my list for Father Christmas.

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Human emotion will always be analogue

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It’s a little over 2 years since Cheil created a virtual shopping experience in a Seoul subway for Tesco Homeplus. It went on to win recognition at the Cannes Lions, SXSWi and the World Retail Congress Awards. It has also become the go to case study to showcase innovation and change in retail and has been copied by retailers all over the world.

Since then we’ve seen the reality of the long expected seismic shift in retail. With the entry of new players reinventing entire categories, we have seen ‘traditional’ big names struggling to reinvent themselves and some having to closing their doors. Digital, as predicted, has changed everything.

Today our shopper is always-on, one click on a smart phone from a retail environment.  Our new expectations of retail are that it is Everywhere, Instant and Personal.

But there is one thing that has not changed, us. As shoppers we are still human beings and the foundation of our decision making, our emotions, remain analogue.

Our lives, in essence have not fundamentally changed; we still desire products and services that solve problems and seek relationships with brands that care about the things we care about.

The paradox of choice* continues to undermine our confidence in our decisions, particularly in categories that have become increasingly complex, with features and technologies making it even harder to figure out human benefit.

We have been trained by retailers to buy on discounts, so we seek emotional reward in value.

And we love New!

Shoppers will continue to seek out emotional connection, connection with Ideas That Move them. And at a time when everything that can be digital, will be digital, there is danger for those that forget this basic human truth.

* The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less. Barry Schwartz, 2004