Patricia McDonald

Why the future of retail is brand commerce

We live in age of blurred boundaries. A host of new technologies, from connected stores to social commerce, have transformed the relationship between content and commerce, shopping and storytelling. Where once the gap between points of inspiration and points of transaction was immense, technology is bringing them ever closer together.

The result is that shopping is no longer an occasion, it is always-on. US technologist Linda Stone coined the expression “Continuous Partial Attention” some years back. A phrase that perfectly captures our desire “to connect and be connected continuously, enabling us to effectively scan for opportunity and optimise for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment”.

We now live in an age of continuous partial shopping – a world where we are constantly evaluating, assessing, shortlisting and exploring.

This transformation is being powered by three key themes:

  • New expectations: the on demand economy
  • New narratives: the democratisation of influence
  • New interfaces: the rise of invisible commerce

The on demand economy

In a world of continuous partial shopping, consumers expect instant gratification. The Uber and Tinder generation demand real-time fulfilment, with innovations in supply chain and logistics fuelling ever shorter delivery windows. Both Amazon and Uber are experimenting with new delivery models powered by flexible workforces, while new businesses such as Doddle and Pass my Parcel are springing up designed to enable rapid delivery and returns beyond major cities. Meanwhile delivery by robot is looking ever more likely.

The democratisation of influence

The proliferation of content and the rise of new sources of influence mean we live in a world of always-on inspiration. Where once we had to actively seek out inspiration on food, fashion or travel today our social feeds are overflowing with content. Inspiration comes to us every minute of the day. 66 per cent of respondents to research by loyalty analytics company Aimia say that images on social media inspire their purchases in the fashion category and 58 per cent in the food and drink category.

The opportunity is to make these points of inspiration shoppable. This is not a question of buy buttons everywhere, but about using social content in new ways to create personalised recommendations and services.

TopShop, for example, has created a new service powered by analysing users’ Pinterest profiles to create bespoke colour palettes and product recommendations. Meanwhile new travel service Sherpa uses Instagram feeds to curate personalised travel recommendations.

Going one stage further, apps such as Markable enable users to snap a picture of any outfit and using image recognition click to purchase, making real world inspiration shoppable.

The rise of invisible commerce

If contactless payment once seemed futuristic, brace yourself for a wave of new interfaces that make payment and ordering as effortless as taking a selfie or voicing a command.

Mastercard and Alibaba have paved the way by introducing payment by selfie, while Amazon Echo, Amazon’s voice activated assistant now synchs with Amazon Prime, enabling users to order millions of products using voice alone. Andrew Ng – chief scientist at Baidu, the Chinese web services company – predicts that, by 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be image or voice based.

Isobar’s nowLab facility is dedicated to exploring retail innovation. Over the last three months we have been experimenting in the world of invisible commerce, building new interfaces that push the limits of the possible.

Combining Oculus Rift technology with an Emotiv EEG reader we were able to monitor users’ brainwaves as they watched a virtual reality catwalk show, using spikes in neurological activity to identify and shortlist the products that stimulated high levels of engagement. Our colleagues in Australia and Japan partnered with Uniqlo, using similar technology to recommend product based on users’ brainwaves.

By combining Perch, an interactive retail unit, with a mood recognition API we have identified the potential to target consumers with different content and messaging in response to their mood.

Meanwhile, inspired by Mastercard’s example, we are exploring the potential to integrate payment capability into dressing room mirrors, enabling users to pay with their face-or perhaps with a smile. To see the future of retail in action, come experiment with us in the Lab.

Patricia McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer, Isobar UK.

This was first published in The Drum.

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