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The store of tomorrow

Ivano Stipcevich, Global Access | Photography by: Karolina Komendera

DIGITAL SIGNAGE IS ALREADY IMPRESSIVE. BUT IN THE FUTURE IT WILL LISTEN, RESPOND TO GESTURES, UNDERSTAND THE CONSUMER AND PERHAPS EVEN REPLACE STORES ENTIRELY.

"We don’t go to shop anymore. We go to buy.” In one phrase Ivano Stipcevich summarises the plight of the retail world. The leisure of shopping is not what it used to be. People don’t window shop and when they do browse the inside, it’s usually to kill time. In stores, salespeople are often viewed as intrusive rather than helpful. This has limited the tools available to woo consumers with.

But all hope is not lost. As the head of Digital Signage Networks at Global Access, Stipcevich has been witnessing a shift in signage technologies. “Digital signage used to be this magical thing that only top-end, big budget clients could afford. Now, it is by default, being put into the retail environment – everyone wants it. Previously the strategy would be to put in ten screens and hope they get more sales. Now it’s more about big data analytics and putting the correct content in the right place to influence people.”

A new touch

The most immediate revolution has been touch. Today large malls across South Africa’s urban areas are festooned with white blocks in their walkways, equipped with a touchscreen that provides information services. This kind of interaction is already natural to consumers, says Stipcevich. “Touch is now a given. Going forward everything may have touch in it and in the next few years I envisage whole touch-friendly environments.”

The next step is voice and gesture, two technologies that Stipcevich expects to become mainstream in the next five to seven years.

“You’ll just move your hand or talk to it. I’ll say ‘the red one’ and then swipe it to my shopping cart. All the high-end interactive displays at expos are increasingly showing gesture, and augmented and virtual uses putting you in the screen. That’s very attractive to retailers. It’s a while away and not commercially viable yet, but it is coming.”

This leads to the next level of gesture technology: spatial gestures. In this area, a user can manipulate a digital environment in three dimensions by moving their hand around in a certain area. Commercial peripherals such as the Leap Motion already offer such interaction and Intel’s RealSense technology aims to take the concept even further.

Opening new dimensions

Another area that’s fast approaching commercial viability is 3D screen technology that doesn’t require glasses to transfer the effect.

“There wasn’t any point in the past for 3D in retail. The glasses were a big barrier. Now that it’s glasses-free, it’s massively commercially viable. You won’t see many, but they’re out there.”

He notes the rise of convex and concave curved OLED screens are also shifting perceptions. It’s still very expensive, but curved surfaces are much more engaging to consumers and, when used strategically, can be a huge boon to a retail environment.

This leads to the current video poster boy: 4K, which boasts super-HD resolutions. It’s valuable for large displays: with 4K a user can get very close to the screen and not experience pixelation.

“We’re getting a lot of questions around 4K, because you can maximise opportunities and do amazing things with content. You can walk up to a giant display, use split displays, project it onto a ceiling or building still maintaining the high quality.”

The data difference

But to Stipcevich the real revolution here is not the hardware, but big data. Companies are able to use analytics and predict consumer behaviour – or at the very least meet them halfway. Big data analytics provide the information required for determining the appropriate type of technology, content and where to place it.

“At the moment we’re seeing a lot of content innovation: how it’s created and used on current technology such as beacon technology, NFC and facial recognition to collect data on who’s watching what content. We also take those screens and put them in an innovative space or in a new formation. Perhaps at an angle or split screens and make content jump across. This strategy is brought about by the valuable information around demographics and customer information obtained by the big data analytics.”

The real advantage is how it can create a customer journey: engage them at the store window, entice them as they move through displays, and prompt them gently at crucial decision moments through their phone or a nearby display.

“Shop design is affected by the customer journey, the placement of specific products or content for specific customers.”

The store of tomorrow

But these can happen in the next few years. What about a decade from now? Stipcevich has little doubt: “I strongly believe we’ll see virtual stores in ten years. For example, a jewellery store that doesn’t show stock in the shop. Instead it uses virtual technologies to engage customers: touch, 3D, maybe even holograms… We may even do our shopping on the front display windows.”

This can include contextual innovations: directional audio that discusses a product being held, comparison made by holding two products at an interactive screen or using augmented reality to give real-time relevant information.

But why stop there? Interactive displays are not just about shopping. They can deliver ambiance. Stipcevich recalls a recent trip to London, where he saw a shop in Oxford street use video panels to create a massive view of the ocean: “The impact was unreal. People were stopping outside and taking photos.”

The future of retail is to immerse the consumer and understand their habits. Perhaps the idea of video walls calling out your name is creepy, but that’s just one aspect of what can be accomplished. Maybe tomorrow’s retailers will have a different problem: people are still reluctant buyers, but they do love staying in your store, playing with displays and soaking up the ambience. That’s when you start selling tickets at the door….

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