Recent innovations representing a broad spectrum of trends that are shaping the present and future of retail
COVID-19 has not only forced retailers to consider brand new approaches but many that were already lagging behind digitally and failed to embrace innovative omnichannel strategies are even more ill-prepared to handle the rapidly changing retail landscape.
One of China’s top department-store brands, Intime, came out well because it embraced an omnichannel approach not only during and post-lockdown, but had already pivoted prior to the pandemic. It entered lockdown with a robust smartphone app and had experimented with live-streaming commerce. For operations that are already behind in developing an agile model, the challenge for these retailers will be even greater.
“This is the moment for business leaders to be investing in understanding the innovation landscape which will frame future retail. Those that are on the right side of disruption and the ever more critical sustainability agenda will thrive,” James Bidwell, co-founder of disruption and innovation consultancy Re_Set, commented.
Additionally, brick-and-mortar retailers will continue facing the same challenges they did pre-COVID — how to add value to the in-store experience over the convenience of shopping online — with the added task of making it safe. In-store experiences will continue to be a key differentiator for the brands who do it well, by taking a customer-centric, and data-centric, approach.
The retail innovations we’ve been tracking continue to highlight the acceleration of trends that were already gaining traction prior to the coronavirus pandemic — including live streaming sales, creative influencer marketing and advancements in virtual technologies — whilst also attempting to strike the right balance between consumer safety and convenience.
Here are seven innovations that represent this broad spectrum of trends that are shaping the new retail reality.
1. CHINA’S HOTTEST NEW LIVE-STREAMERS ARE VIRTUAL
Live-streaming eCommerce is big business in China, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people eschew physical stores for online shopping. Now, live-streaming is merging with another trend – preprogrammed, 3D computer-generated models that use motion graphics to live-stream. A growing number of e-commerce platforms and brands are using virtual anime idols to attract a younger generation of shoppers.
In April, popular virtual singer Luo Tianyi, who has almost 4.6 million followers on Weibo, co-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 garnered almost 3 million viewers. On May 1, Alibaba’s eCommerce platform Tmall added virtual idols Luo Tianyi and Yuezheng Ling to a live-streaming event.
2. SOCIAL SHOPPING EXPERIENCE BLENDS DIGITAL AND PHYSICAL WORLDS
British brand Burberry partnered with Tencent, one of China’s leading technology companies, for a brand new social shopping experience. Located in Shenzhen, the destination store provides a powerful blend of in-real-life shopping with online interaction and special features. The store uses QR codes on in-store products to connect with shoppers’ digital lives. Once scanned on a smartphone, the codes reveal styling tips, points for unlocking exclusive content and additional information about the brand and its products.
The collaboration is accessed via a mini-programme available in WeChat. After creating a profile, each visitor’s baby deer avatar hatches from an egg, neatly linking the online world with the fashion house’s recurring fawn motif. Shoppers use the programme to book one of the store’s three fitting rooms, with each booking including a pre-selected range of clothes to try on and a personalised playlist. Table bookings at the in-store cafe and appointments with stylists are both completed in-app.
3. STOREFRONT PLATFORM CREATES VIRTUAL ‘HIGH STREETS’
If shoppers can’t visit the high street, why not bring the high street to shoppers? That is the idea behind Streetify, an e-commerce platform that launched in late March, just in time to help businesses respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Users of the app and website can actually choose the street they wish to visit and can scroll left or right to “walk” up and down. They are shown virtual storefronts and can click on any store to enter its Streetify website. Once inside the “store”, consumers can see all of the special offers, deals and promotions that have been gathered from top deal sites such as Groupon and Rakuten. Business owners can also put messages in their virtual storefront windows, announcing deals, delivery options, in-stock goods and more.
4. CHECKOUT APP REPLICATES IN-STORE EXPERIENCE
The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the retail sector billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. One such place that has been affected is the immersive retail startup Showfields in New York City, which has been adjusting to a new normal, where interacting with objects and people in-store can be a hazard. As its flagship store in Soho has reopened, they’ve had to be innovative, maintaining the old in-store experience for customers in the form of the Magic Wand app.
For customers who feel comfortable venturing out and making the trip to the store, the recently launched Magic Wand app has been designed to serve as a virtual retail adviser for customers. The app will provide additional information on display objects, which customers can choose by tapping or scanning them using their phones. To make a purchase, objects can simply be added to a digital cart, and customers can then check out without having to interact with a store associate.
5. VEGAN FOOTWEAR COMPANY DESIGNS IN-HOUSE SUPPLY CHAIN SOFTWARE
In a post-COVID world, customers will be more conscious of where products are sourced from and retailers will need to be more transparent about their global supply chains.
Californian-based Evolution Design Lab created a digital platform for use both internally and with all supply partners. The software includes portals tailored to factories, buyers and everyone in between. The aim is to ensure that all partners have access to real-time and accurate information at every stage of production.
From the first case study, DL reported a 75 per cent reduction in development costs on footwear samples and a 300 per cent increase of the product line and SKU depth.
6. SOCIAL COMMERCE PLATFORM TURNS SHOPPING FROM HOME INTO A GROUP ACTIVITY
Squadded works by allowing users to connect with groups of friends and go online shopping together, chatting through the extension as they virtually try on different outfits or discuss items. Once installed, users can go to participating sites and browse. The platform allows users to add items to a wish list, poll friends for advice and see what other users are buying.
For brands, Squadded offers the opportunity for higher conversion rates from the peer-to-peer connection. According to research firm Nielsen, people tend to buy more when they shop with friends, because having the decision affirmed by a friend reduces the perception that a purchase is frivolous.
7. WHATSAPP CHATBOT HELPS CUSTOMERS FIND THE PERFECT TIME TO SHOP
In an attempt to provide a solution for the snaking queues, the supermarket chain Lidl launched a WhatsApp chatbot in Ireland, with which customers can converse, and find the quietest times at their local stores.
Customers simply have to send the chatbot a message on WhatsApp stating 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 notifying the sender if the particular day and time is usually a quiet, average or busy time to shop.
Written and Curated By: Justin Sablich
19th August 2020