Omnipresence: Emerging Themes in Retail Series #4/4

From OmniChannel to Omnipresence

The future of retail rests on one simple distinction: retail is no longer a destination, it is a feature.

Understood as a feature, retail becomes a social, layered, and just-in-time service that follows us wherever we go. Retail will be embedded in every environment, making highly-personalized options available as our activities, locations, roles, and moods change. In this world, retail is always contextual, and never obtrusive. In this world, conventional “path to purchase” and channel marketing strategies no longer fit. In this world, it is important to understand that customer and retailer are no longer connected through omnichannels, instead they are continuously connected through its new mode of omnipresence.

A significant exception is that stores will be more of a destination than ever before, though not as much for shopping as for novelty and adventure, particularly of the Guided Discovery sort (described in the previous post).

The following scenario illustrates how retail will be integrated as a feature in even the most basic tasks.

It’s Tuesday, and while you were sleeping, your 8am meeting was rescheduled to 10:30am. This change is already updated on your calendar, with adjustments for waking time, weather, travel conditions, and reprioritization of tasks and calls to make on your way in to the office. Now it’s time to get ready for the day.

Your bathroom, full of sensors, records this morning’s chemistries (urine, breath, saliva, and such), and triggers the medication printer to produce the nutritional and medical supplements to give you optimal function today.  A breakfast menu waits for you in the kitchen, tailored to today’s health status, and based on foods you have on hand. Dinner menus are suggested too, according to your tastes, habits, and what’s in season. Once approved, groceries will be ordered, then delivered at the same time you get home tonight, where a hologrammed chef will work with you through each step of the recipe.

By your closet, a mirror shows you a few (virtual) outfits, culled from your wardrobe, to fit today’s weather, mood, and events. You swipe the shoes out for boots, and change a few of the accessories. Good. It’ll go perfectly with the trench coat you’d admired on a passerby yesterday, then ordered on the spot. All it took was a quick photo with your Find-It app, which identified the brand, style, best fit for your measurements, and nearest location with your size. One tap and it was bought. A second tap and it was delivered within the hour.

While you didn’t ‘go shopping’ as you went through your morning routine, there are retail moments threaded throughout--and all before your workday begins. This scenario is imagined as a convergence of technologies that already exist that, together, will produce an experience in which retail is omnipresent.

Perhaps the most significant emergent technology is the physical-virtual-augmented hybrid reality, such as the Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens provide. These devices superimpose 3D images on a live view of the real world. With the HoloLens, unveiled in January 2015, you may have a holographic tour guide as you walk the streets of Lexington, MA, seeing Paul Revere riding through, shouting “The British are coming!” You can appear to be sitting in a conference room in Singapore with your colleagues, while they appear to be sitting in yours. You’ll all be able to tour the model of a new building, while drawing, editing, and moving the images as you walk through the space.  The implications of holographic computing can easily be imagined for collaboration, product design, education, and customer service (who can see what you see and guide you through a task. Hello IKEA!).

Holographic computing is truly the next big thing. Because it “changes the way your customers interact with the products, services, and information that you provide them,” says James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester, “…holographic computing will rapidly infiltrate and then take over computing just as touch interfaces did starting with the iPhone.”

As you watch the following HoloLens video, ask “How does our business fit--and thrive--in this scenario?”

For the first time ever, Microsoft HoloLens seamlessly blends high-definition holograms with your real world. Holograms will improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you've never done before.

This full Minority Report experience is still several years out (industrial versions expected by 2017).  We get an early taste of these capability with the just-released demo version of CyberCook Taster, an app that offers a virtual simulation of cooking to a recipe, onto which retail-as-a-feature is layered in the learning experience.  Users can purchase real world foods, kitchen tools, and appliances featured in the cooking demonstration. CyberCook is already paired with Oculus and Samsung Gear, and will be rolled out through 2015.

Go beyond the passive-reactive nature of cookery books, videos and TV as you learn to cook in the virtual kitchen. An appetising glimpse of the first truly interactive cookery platform, feed your inner foodie with the first major step change in cooking media in over 20 years.

Definition: The Internet of Things:
A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.
— “Digital Life in 2025,” a report from Pew Research Center

Together, virtual-augmented-holographic-reality capabilities yield a larger reality for retail: Omnipresence. Pulsing through it is data streaming across sensor-laden devices, making every interaction hyper-personal and context-specific.

Deep insights about each person’s patterns—time you start your commute, type of car your drive, favorite coffee shop and drink, whether it’s your kids or your boss that’s in the car (different restaurant recommendations), when you’re on vacation, seats at the baseball stadium (hotdog delivered), your lifetime value as a customer—will give retailers the power to anticipate needs in each moment. Seamlessly.

We are already experiencing the shift with newer “smart” technologies that allow us to personalize our homes (TVs, thermostats, fridges) and our devices, sending only the information, tweets, offers, news updates and offers that matter to each person (Google Now, “Whole Foods of the Future” scenario). Other technologies shaping the Omnipresence of retail:

This small sampling of innovative apps and technologies demonstrate how every bit of retail is being reinvented, from how products are designed and produced, to where they’re purchased and how payment is made.  Together, they are leapfrogging over the omnichannel paradigm and into a new retail reality of omnipresence.

The paradigm shift is quite profound, and requires a total re-think of business model and strategy, as was stated at the beginning of this Rethinking Retail series.  The forces that are transforming retail from a store + website model (with social and mobile tacked on) to a feature embedded in our “natural” environment have been examined through four important themes emerging in retail, 1) Local & Bespoke, 2) Transporting Experiences, 3) Guided Discovery, and 4) Omnipresence.

Cecily Sommers is a futurist who consults and speaks about reinvention. She is the author of Think Like a Futurist: Know What Changes, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next

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