Lowe's Innovation Labs - the internal tech hub of US home improvement retailer Lowe's - has surpassed its in-store augmented reality simulator for home-improvement projects (initiated in 2014) with a new concept that guides shoppers through DIY projects using both virtual reality (VR) and haptic technologies.
Dubbed Holoroom How To, the highly immersive (still store-based) concept has evolved from a pre-purchase visualisation tool, showing consumers how a product would look in their home, into a programme grounded in learning key skills.
Visitors wear a VR headset to watch a DIY tutorial chosen from a menu of options, subsequently following instructions displayed in front of them by using a hand controller to mimic gestures such as painting a fence or tiling a wall. Adding realism to each task, the in-built haptic tech issues life-like vibrations such as drill movements.
Lowe's was inspired to create the concept based on its own research revealing many consumers lack the confidence and skills to embark on DIY projects despite wanting to get involved. According to the retailer, those using the tool have a 36% better recall of the task than those watching a regular video tutorial online.
See also Lowe's Unveils AI Robot Concierge.
Chinese tech start-up BingoBox has launched a staff-free, 24/7 store in Zhongshan City (Southern China) that's entirely facilitated by the country's biggest messaging platform, WeChat. The move confirms the power of social media (and the smartphone) as the axis around which many consumers now run their lives.
To enter the fully automated space, shoppers must scan a digitally displayed QR code on the door using WeChat's scanner feature. Inside, they can browse more than 800 products including daily necessities such as drinks, groceries and over-the-counter medicine. Items are paid for via WeChat at an automated self-checkout; scanning another QR code with their smartphone connects shoppers to their mobile wallets held within the WeChat system.
To exit, shoppers have to scan yet another QR code to reopen the door. This is connected to a 'virtual tagging' security system that verifies that all items have been paid for. If in need of assistance, visitors can press a button on the wall by the checkout desk to activate a real-time video chat with a BingoBox staff member, who helps remotely.
The compact unit measures approximately 15 sq m and is designed for easy relocation (see also Flexible Store Formats). It can be digitally programmed to lift itself and be pushed in any direction, thanks to foldout wheels in its base.
See also Amazon Go's Checkout-Free Grocery Stores, Staffless Smartphone-Powered Shop, Rapid Retail, Future Supermarket Strategies, Mobile World Congress 2016 and Mobile Payments Round-Up, 2017. See also Social to Store: Spurring Key Crossover, publishing on April 13.
French car manufacturer Peugeot is reinventing the traditional car-purchasing process with a new digital platform on its e-commerce site that entirely negates the need to visit a dealership. This includes handling any negotiations regarding part exchanges or financing deals.
The buying process consists of four steps. Firstly, consumers configure the car using an interactive tool – choosing engine type, colours, interior and exterior features. They can also view the car in 360°.
Secondly, shoppers can part exchange their old car to offset the new purchase or, if Peugeot agrees, receive a cash payment for the old model. To receive a valuation for their vehicle, they're required to complete a short questionnaire ("What condition is the car in?" "What's the mileage?"). The car is subsequently checked by the Peugeot team in-person to complete the assessment and confirm an outstanding balance.
The third step – Personalise Your Finance – involves choosing a payment method (eg. monthly), and the last step is selecting a method and date of delivery.
For those who prefer the reassurance of multiple brand touchpoints, the process can also be started online and finalised at the dealership, or vice versa. See Start-Pause-Go: Retail in Hyper Flow (part of Roaming Retail) for more on 'staggered commerce' and Omni-Interactive for more on capturing channel-hopping consumers.
After ordering, purchasers are assigned a dedicated Peugeot representative who provides regular status updates.
Tokyo-based multi-brand sportswear manufacturer and retailer Goldwin has opened a hybrid ‘remedy hub’/concept store in which all retail and gym elements are anchored in the benefits of achieving a neutral body-mind state. The premise, according to the brand, is that neutrality is the key to unlocking inner power.
Located in Tokyo’s upscale shopping district of Gaienmae, the Neutral Works flagship encompasses four key components: workout clothes/equipment, nutrition, scientific ‘recovery services’ and educational workshops.
Targeting new parents, Marie's Baby Circle – a nursery brand owned by South Korea's largest retailer, E-mart – has unveiled a flagship focused heavily on guidance and support in the Starfield shopping mall, Hanam City (East Seoul).
The concept, designed by British agency Dalziel + Pow, homes in on an audience seeking an especially reassuring environment. South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world (just 1.1 per woman), making the majority of parents first-timers.
Key features include:
On March 9 – the day after International Women’s Day – Puma will host a one-day workout and athleisure experience in London billed as a platform for female empowerment. The move taps into the appetite for brand experiences that celebrate and support women (see Feminism-Fuelled Retail).
It will combine fitness classes, workout fashion styling and photography sessions “celebrating individual style”, as well as a wrap party – all led by inspirational female figures. Organised by London-based youth marketing agency Urban Nerds Collective, the ‘experience hub’ will promote Puma’s current campaign ‘Do You’, which is grounded in helping women find their best inner self through sport.
Pulling on some of the best British female sporting talent, football sessions will be led by key players from Arsenal Ladies Football Club. Meanwhile, running and general training sessions will be helmed by British medal-winning boxer Lisa Moore and Melissa Weldon – personal trainer and founder of confidence-building obstacle race FemPower UK.
Styling and photography sessions will be hosted by Puma’s own Female Movement. This grassroots collective of women (yet to be divulged) will be there to “encourage participants to follow their own core instincts when it comes to outfit combinations, and motivate them to have fun in front of the camera”. London-based female DJs and other music talent will close the event. Location, timetable, ticket prices and music acts are yet to be announced.
Collaborations between luxury fashion brands and fine artists are a long-established tradition – see Rites, Rituals & Culture Clubs and Art-Fuelled Fashion Spaces. But a new wave of concepts using more unusual choices of artists, intimate vistas into brand worlds or mementoes of the cultural experience illustrate an evolved attitude.
Catering to the premise of a 24-hour retail landscape, Luxembourg-based digital experience agency iNui Studio has partnered with Samsung to develop a ‘motion-sensor bar’ that can transform store windows into interactive screens. This allows consumers to shop directly from whatever content is playing on them, whenever they like – without even making physical contact.
Called Air x Touch, the bar is mounted along the bottom of a screen that sits just inside the store window, and houses six motion sensors that create a sensitive 3D detection area 6” in front of it. This renders the space in front of the screen and just outside the store window interactive. It works under any lighting conditions and regardless of the thickness of the window.
The sensitive area reacts to hand gestures such as the motion of pushing through air with an index finger – enabling people to activate videos or add products seen on-screen to a digital shopping basket, for instance. It’s possible to zoom in on a product by drawing a clockwise circle with a finger, while a horizontal swipe is accomplished when moving full hands to the right or left.
Furthering the very deliberate sense of ease on which the concept pivots, near-field communication (NFC) technology is integrated in the bar, enabling customers with NFC-enabled phones to purchase displayed products on-site just by tapping their mobile phone or credit cards on a sensor.
Recognising the rise of ‘conscious consumption’ (see Retail: The Eco-Ethical Upsell), two Swedish brands have launched zero-waste workshops. These initiatives aim to help consumers with plenty of eco intentions, but not so much practical experience, to work towards a more sustainable life.
Ikea’s Eco-Efficiency Workshops: Ikea is celebrating the ‘circular economy’ with zero-waste living workshops based on the Swedish phrase ‘lagom är bäst’ – ‘the right amount is best’.
Running from February 22-26 at its store in London’s Westfield Stratford mall, customers receive tips and tricks on reducing waste and using fewer resources. The free workshops also discuss topics including fermenting, composting and waste management, energy-efficient cooking and safe cycling in the city.
Monetising the initiative, each event is accompanied by a curated selection of ‘lagom är bäst’ products to buy, including food storage, water bottles and waste-management products. Zero-waste food can also be sampled at an on-site pop-up bistro.
Gram’s Full-Circle Education Hub: Malmö store Gram – which tackles the rise of plastic waste by selling unpackaged foods (customers bring their own containers) – offers zero-waste cooking and gift-wrapping classes. It also hosts DIY beauty and cleaning product workshops.
Spurred by predictions that menswear sales will outstrip womenswear worldwide by 2020 (Euromonitor, 2017), a new wave of lifestyle-focused flagship destinations are being dedicated solely to men. Most are characterised by a community-driven ambience and bespoke experiences over a hard sell.
Gap has piloted a soon-to-be-rolled-out, fully shoppable augmented reality (AR) app that lets shoppers try on clothes remotely, showing them in context and adjusting to the consumer’s size.
The concept, Dressing Room by Gap, was developed in partnership with San Francisco-based 3D avatar developer Avametric and Google – the latter deploying its AR platform Tango, which uses camera devices to overlay images onto a physical space in real-time, not unlike the Pokemon Go mobile game.
After selecting an outfit (the catalogue shows 3D renders of Gap's current e-commerce offer), shoppers are required to add personal info such as height and weight, and choose one of 10 featured body sizes (0-20). The app consequently creates a 3D avatar wearing the item, placing it into the environment directly in front of the shopper via their mobile device screen. Shoppers can move the digital mannequin to view the clothing from different angles, as well as changing whole outfits, sizes and colours, with the avatar reacting in real-time (see also Rapid Retail). All the items are purchasable in-app.
The concept is currently exclusive to Google Tango-enabled smartphones, making it relatively prohibitive. There is only one model on the market at present – Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo's Phab2Pro, with a model by Taiwanese electronics company Asus due to launch at the end of 2017. However, the potential to review consumer behaviour and ‘trigger points’ for purchase remains strong.
The initiative digs deeper into the playful breed of luxe the brand's been co-opting since its 2014 arcade-game-style Fendi Fun pop-up in Harrods department store, London (see Haute Humour). This sensibility was reprised last year with a boisterous-looking, year-long Tokyo pop-up featuring giant fur dolls, mini theatres and neon projections (see full blog post for more).
The visual-centric, Tumblr-style 'F is For...' is accessible via the brand's main e-commerce site, a separate microsite and a standalone app, and boasts five sections. Freaks is an 'About' section pitched as a creative call-to-arms for millennials (aka 'freaks'); Fulgore hosts editorial shoots unique to the platform; Faces features interviews and images of Fendi's latest 'ambassadors'; Freedom offers global listings of hip venues; and Fearless spotlights 'creators' and emerging talent within the arts. All articles can be shared on social media.
For now, keeping the mood soft sell, nothing can be purchased on the platform. See Rise of the Exploratorium for more on the 'post-transactional' space.
While the concept illustrates Fendi's allegiance to fun, it also highlights how luxury brands are 'splintering' to ensure wider appeal. In December 2016, Fendi created an elegant 'Happy Room' pop-up at Design Miami geared towards older consumers, showcasing materials innovations. See Retail: Digitising Luxury, 2017 and Tiered Retailing for more on this tactic.
Parents' increased willingness to spend on kids' fashion, combined with an appetite for seeking value at all levels of purchasing (see The Austerity Opportunity for more), is fuelling an upsurge in online recommerce initiatives in Europe and the US. The UK childrenswear market is expected to hit £7.8bn by 2019 (Mintel), with global sales growing at a CAGR of more than 6% by 2020 (Technavio).
For more on children's retail, see Kids-Centric Commerce 2017 (publishing on February 16), and Toy Worlds: Targeting Gen Me. For more on reselling, see Rent the Runway's Subscription Mode, Sneakerhead Resale Mega-Concept, The Berkeley Vintage Style Service and Byronesque: Vintage E-Tail App.
One of the standout retail initiatives for Valentine’s 2017 comes from US pop-culture provocateur Marc Jacobs. The fashion designer has gone against the traditionally schmaltzy romantic grain with a trio of short, low-fi commercials that echo the sex hotline infomercials that were prevalent during late-night 90s TV shows.
Each of the three 35-second videos stars a female model with OTT early 90s styling, teased hair and dramatic make-up, and is slightly different in tone. ‘Lexie’ reads romantic poems, ‘Chloe’ speaks in hotline innuendo, and ‘Jessica’ offers a comedy spoof – spraying herself in the face with perfume mid-enticement.
Shared across the brand’s social media channels alongside still imagery of small leather goods and cosmetics, the tongue-in-cheek campaign invites customers to call 1-844-LUV-MARC to receive a discount. When dialled, an automated recording of a sultry voice provides a 10% discount code (for US and Canadian consumers only) on all products on Marc Jacobs’ e-commerce site.
While the shorts are circulated on social media, the surprise factor of unusually low-fi communication, and the shift away from standard-formula sponsored posts on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, makes them likely to generate major brand buzz.
For our full coverage of the best Valentine’s concepts, including new forms of personalisation, feminism-fuelled commerce and the value of ‘self-help selling’, see Retail: Valentine’s Strategies 2017.
Walmart’s trial of Blockchain technology in China looks set to shift it from an interesting-sounding yet entirely enigmatic phenomenon to an innovation with major retail relevance.
Largely the preserve of the finance sector to date, Blockchain is a shared digital ledger, providing anyone in a network with a view of a complete list of steps in a particular process. Every person in the network can enter information at their stage of a process, with the technology using complex codes to validate and link chains of information. This makes it nearly impossible to tamper with or change an entry after recording it, presenting uses in any area where provenance is valued.
Walmart’s trial involves tracking products through complicated supply chains as a way to reassure its consumers – either by making the data directly visible, or by including it in marketing and PR communications. It will potentially allow brands to build trust, maximise interest in provenance, or tackle counterfeit goods.
Considering that consumer trust in multiple sectors – from food to fashion – has fallen over the last decade (in 2016, Havas Media Group reported that US consumers only trust 20% of all brands), the concept holds notable mileage.
British start-up Provenance goes a step further than Walmart’s trial, allowing consumers to access Blockchain-verified information about a product’s story. The company provides retailers with the infrastructure needed to trace products and materials, and has built a consumer-facing portal where product stories can be told.