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The Rise of Technology in Experiential Retail

By August 9, 2019 May 22nd, 2020 No Comments

As Amazon approaches nearly a quarter century of retail disruption, the long-term implications of e-tailing are coming increasingly into focus. The picture is clear: The ease at which we can order and receive items from the comfort of our homes has led to what many brick and mortar stores are calling…


Or RETAILOCALYPSE (for lovers a good portmanteau). The original disrupters, retail mega-behemoths like Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Radio Shack, are going the way of the Woolly Mammoth, unable to keep up with the tectonic shifts in consumer behavior.

Over 12,000 physical stores have closed since 2008 while as many as 75,000 more are predicted to shutter by 2026. Abandoned malls across the country have crumbled into dioramas of dystopia; overgrown and dilapidated ruins of civilizations long ago when our ancestor would pay homage at the alters of Hot Topic and Rue 21 and surmount great elevations by way of moving stairs.

As online fulfillment becomes faster and more convenient, brick and mortar locations seem to find themselves short on resources and long on overhead. “Doomed,” some would say.

Or are they?

Brick and mortars retain one thing that online will never have: They are actual locations… places for people to visit. In short, they are destinations… or at least they can be.

You see, another trend is being clocked among today’s consumers: the preference toward experiences over possessions, stories to tell over objects to hold, memories over, well… stuff.

Forward leaning retailers are leveraging the evolving landscape into opportunity; places to journey to, have shared memorable experiences, find products with ease, and, if personally novel enough, share amongst peers through social media.

Enter the rise of technologies in experiential retail. Companies have begun to capitalize on all the emerging tech buzzwords: AR/VR/XR, projection mapping, holograms, wayfinding, ‘grammable moments, giant LED architecture, gesture control, and motion and facial tracking to provide one-of-a-kind experiences that amaze and delight, help users find the exact right product or customization they seek, entertain, and deepen the customer/brand experience.

It seems that not only do the gods of technology taketh away from retail, but they also giveth.

Retail locations are using giant LED’s, video walls, and projection mapping to change the way customers interact and regard the environment. Original content on larger-than-life screens can entertain, reinforce brand messaging, and create stimulating environments lightyears from the screen scrolling and point and click of online shopping.

Have you ever been to a Big Box or hardware superstore and wandered around looking for a needle in a haystack of products? Heretofore, the age-old solution has been regular, plain ‘ol, flat-graphic signage. Go here for kitchen, here for beds, here for all the latest electronics your spouse won’t let you buy…

Interactive screens can turn those simple arrows into personized one-on-one directions. OR… technology can do you one better: What if that screen was in your pocket and could use your camera feature and Augmented Reality to create a living map that allowed you to follow a line, or digital avatar, to the exact location on the shelf of your product? Answer: it can be done.

Digital LED floors guide and inform patrons and can come alive with motion or touch sensing. The same floor can make recommendations and give you a more complete shopping experience.

In-store games, interactive kiosks, photo ops, gamification, etc…  can all bring a level of engagement that keeps them coming back. For example, Kraft used projection mapping and motion tracking to create a floor of interactive pasta where consumers could send macaroni flying with hand swipes, kicks, and jumps. With such a unique incentive, you better believe that kids suddenly were interested in going to the grocery store with Mom.

The NBA Store uses giant live LED screens that take up entire walls and round corners to deliver non-stop NBA content, live game feeds, and all the latest in NBA news. Instead of being just a place to pick up your favorite player jersey, it has become a deep immersive dive into the NBA itself, styling itself as a destination for fans as well as shoppers.

Many retailers are finding out how to use technology powered experiential retail to create a more complete shopper experience. Trek, for example, uses Augmented Reality and slow-motion capture technology to create a bike fitting application that gives accurate data on bike sizes and the types of adjustments users need to make on their bike to have a safer, more efficient, and more comfortable bike ride; all in mere moments.

Evinrude, a world-class boat engine manufacturer, used their massive 600-pound flagship engine as an Augmented Reality tool, so that consumers could look at the engine through a tablet and customize a look from over 400 different panels that they could then take a picture with and have their own self-generated sales collateral.

Water fixture powerhouse, Moen, uses an interactive multi-touch kiosk that allows users to take a “virtual shower” to push their new smart shower, both differentiating their product in stores, but also letting users to get a full product tour before committing to purchase and install.

When the customer is ready to make a purchase, they can do so knowing that they made the right purchase before they ever sign the receipt. Online shopping, on the other hand, suffers from not allowing purchasers to get a real feel for the product until it arrives in the mail and the charges have gone through.

When it comes to knowing what people are looking at, their dwell time, related searches, and demographic information, it’s no secret that online changed the game. Incredibly targeted ads and content are delivered to a person based upon their online behavior. However, object tracking, emotion recognition, gaze tracking, RFID, wi-fi tracking, and pressure sensitive floors are bringing that level of granular insight to merchandising floors. Creating experiences that require users to sign in can track users across touchpoints as part of a broader data set that gives businesses insight on how to merge the online and offline behaviors of their customers.

As Under Armour was introducing a new brand house into Boston’s acclaimed Prudential Center, they turned the “coming soon” sign on its head. Instead, they installed two freestanding VR devices that allowed visitors of the center to see the store before it was built. Users provided email data and opted into a mailing list at the beginning of the retail experience to receive a one-of-a-kind tour by Red Sox feature player, Jackie Bradley Jr. In the end, Under Armour had a list of over 3,000 people, most of which lived in the area and were prone to visiting the Prudential already. When opening day arrived, Under Armour was able to hit the ground running with an appropriately targeted demographic.

Unique, not-to-be-found-anywhere-else, ‘grammable moments are at a premium in this modern world of selfies and shared snapchat stories. Creating custom backdrops, events, and photo-ops allow for users to organically share and become brand advocates by simply posting. It is a perfect way to then give the physical experience a digital presence to garner organic impressions.

Limited, one-of-a-kind shareable moments have a way of drawing the FOMO out in all of us. Pandora radio provides a quintessential example of the type of photo-op people will wait in line for. Users answered a series of questions that formed a one-of-a-kind projection mapped backdrop that they could grab a personalized selfie that touted both their uniqueness and the uniqueness of the brand.

It has been said that problems are merely opportunities in disguise. Those embracing this ethos and not clinging to the retail practices of a pre-internet era are redefining the brick-and-mortar retail space and evolving it to grow in all the ways push-button purchasing will never be able to do. It is this “head west” mentality that is often missing from the all the “sky is falling”, “retail is circling the drain” rhetoric we hear. While it is true that e-commerce has changed the way we shop forever, don’t be surprised to see brick-and-mortar send a flurry of counter punches before it ever goes down. After all, as the moniker “retail apocalypse” would imply, they are fighting for their life, and that sort of necessity breeds innovation.

For more examples of experiential retail, be sure to visit our PORTFOLIO

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