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Tech the Aisles: In-Store Gets High-Tech

Futuristic tech is making its way into stores, restaurants, and dressing rooms as retailers try to find digital innovations that make in-store as attractive and seamless as online and mobile.

This Black Friday, sales in-store reportedly took a downturn while online sales flourished. While there were likely many factors contributing to this shift, it does serve as yet another reminder for retailers that in-store needs to evolve, and evolve fast, to capture young consumers who are increasingly just as happy to click their virtual carts full, and skip the hassle of a trip to the store.

Tech integration and creating an omnichannel experience are the clearest ways for brands to makeover the in-store visit to meet young consumers’ rapidly shifting expectations. This season, we’ve seen several major retailers providing digital solutions to help make in-store shopping easier, or put mobile shopping in the spotlight. Beacons are another major way we see this trend evolving, giving retailers the ability to send information to shoppers nearby and create more seamless and digitally assisted interactions with consumers—but we’ll save that huge movement for another post. Today, we’re looking at three very different brands playing with tech that not too long ago would have seemed futuristic, and integrating innovation into the average in-store experience to making brick-and-mortar seem as tech-forward as online and mobile: 

1. Rebecca Minkoff x eBay Connected Stores

eBay and designer Rebecca Minkoff have teamed up to create the store of the future. Their “connected stores” are Minkoff’s first brick-and-mortar locations, and they’re starting up with a tech-forward approach. The locations, in SoHo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, will “brings the best of the online world into the store” by integrating touch-screens, interactive displays, and digital fitting rooms. A large, mirrored touch screen wall allows visitors to browse the latest collections, runway shows, photos, and other brand content on social channels. Through that wall, clothing items can be added to the dressing room—in the correct chosen size—drinks can be ordered, and the mobile app can be downloaded. Once in the dressing room, which visitors will be alerted is ready via text message, shoppers can use the mirror inside to adjust lighting, get advice from stylists, and request other colors or sizes of the items being tried on, which are automatically recognize by the RFID screen. It’s all the convenience of online shopping and browsing, with the added convenience of trying items on in person—which is perhaps one of the biggest reasons that consumers are still making treks in-store regularly.

2. Pizza Hut Subconscious Menu

Imagine a restaurant menu that senses what you are interested in before you are even aware that you want it, and tells you exactly what to order to satisfy the cravings you weren’t even conscious you had. Sounds futuristic, but that future is here—and Pizza Hut, of all places is paving the way. The brand’s new “subconscious menu” is a tablet that tracks eye movements and senses what toppings the user is looking at the most. Wherever the users’ gaze lingers are the toppings that are picked, with the idea that those are the items that are subconsciously being desired. The whole process is entirely touch-free and takes 2.5 seconds. While this all might seem like a fluke-y digital guessing game, the tests in the U.K. have reportedly resulted in 98% of users being satisfied with their experience. Pizza Hut partnered with Swedish eye-tracking company Tobii and worked for six months to refine the menu. The pizza chain has not announced any current plans to bring the tech to the U.S., but if it works we could imagine many other brands that could apply the process to in-person decision making. 

3. Lowe’s OSHbot Robots

Robots are here, and they want to take you…to find the hardware you’re looking for. Lowe’s hardware stores are testing a robot assistant called OSHbot, which can guide shoppers around aisles, verbally answer questions, and scan items to give more information. Thanks to its sensors, OSHbot can navigate the store without knocking into people or items, and can sense when its being approached by someone. OSHbot was created by Fellow Robots and Lowe’s Innovation Labs, which focuses on “making science fiction a reality.” The robot helpers are the brand’s attempt at bringing retail, which they say hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years, into the present day. Huge, sometimes overwhelming, stores like Lowes could truly benefit from these wondering robot guides, which will have the precise location of a desired item programmed into them, and could make wandering aisles in search of the right product a thing of the past.