QR code, photographs for the purchase of products, shops with interactive windows and social interfaces, chatbots, augmented reality, sensors and IoT, big data and wearable. In retail, what are we willing to do for the customer?

From proximity and micro-location marketing with Bluetooth-based beacon devices to Amazon Go (which we talked about here, in early 2017), the new sensor-based shop, algorithms of deep learning and artificial vision. Changing shopping experiences, in which real and virtual are mixing each other incessantly in a vortex that starts from the search for information online and arrives at the completion of the customer journey in the offline, and vice versa. Retail is transformed without the consumer being able, at times, to conceive the substrate of change.

Introducing Amazon Go and the world’s most advanced shopping technology from Amazon’s YouTube channel.

There! Then comes the desire to get back in touch with reality, the one that, digitized almost in all and for all, has lost its boundaries. Or simply, it saw them dematerialized. We need experiences, to go back to the essence of things.

Perhaps this is why among the new trends in the retail sector, the one that cannot fail to attract our attention is the creation of shops which are not shops: temporary, thematic, experiential stores. Shops in which the mantra is: contamination and immersion. Because since the first Ralph Lauren concept store, inaugurated in New York in 1986, the idea has always been to enclose different activities and experiences in one reality: from literary cafĂ©s in the salons of the eighteenth-century Paris to Jova Pop Shop, created for the launch of the fourteenth disc by Jovanotti and open in Piazza Gae Aulenti, in Milan. In this regard, it seems that Milan is the first Italian city, and also the only one at the moment, able to promptly acknowledge the changes taking place in the retail sector: from the 13 days of activity of the store, which took its name from ‘Pop-Shop‘ at the Keith Haring Store in New York, at Pornhub’s first Christmas Store, opened from the 1st to the 31st of December 2017 – exclusively in the whole of Europe, simultaneously with the opening in New York – right in the capital of Milan, a stone’s throw from Corso Como. Testimonials of how, in addition to the idea of a traditional store in which to buy records, books, t-shirts, gadgets of the Italian artist – in the first case – has been offered to fans and customers an unforgettable experience. In fact, inside the shop, in addition to being able to meet and see the singer Lorenzo Cherubini really close, every day there were entertainment shows that involved active artists in the Italian and international music scene. The concept of the red-light store is the same: limited edition gadgets, but above all events and the involvement of Italian designers, designers and cartoonists to make everything even more memorable, as well as spicy.

Retail? The must-have is the experience

Experience is, therefore, the watchword for the future of retail. A future in which, without any melancholy, it seems to be looking at the past to get inspiration. Shops like squares: these are not so innovative concepts as they could appear at first glance. Just think of the shops designed in the manner of medieval shops, with houses on the upper floor, markets with festivals led by jesters, archers and jugglers, music, and tournaments. Or even in the shopping centers of the Fifties and Sixties, in which it was possible to find – in addition to the shops, clearly – recreational spaces or used for meetings between businessmen. Experience as the central point of the new retail, or the desire to transform retail sale in place for public meetings. Not just smells, sounds, colors that intervene to stimulate the memory in the mind of the consumer but experience to overturn the idea of a store, crowded and from which to escape as soon as possible: a space, designed to accommodate and entertain its visitors, who are invited to spend their time in a micro world, created in the mail for them. To offer a journey, an experience, not just a t-shirt. For that, you can now buy almost anything conveniently online. not just a shirt.

Customer first, experience and omnichannel

And if online stores invade the physical world, physical stores also want to be there online. A continuous pursuit, to always be there, where the consumer shows up.

According to the survey conducted by KPMG Nunwood, ‘The era of the Customer Experience’ – which investigates the ways in which brands create excellent experiences in the Italian market – grocery retail is the sector with the highest level of Customer Experience in Italy, the non-grocery retail is the strongest on the empathic level. In the material used by Paolo Capaccioni, Partner KPMG Advisory, during the research presentation event, empathy – together with personalization, expectations, time and effort, integrity and resolution – is one of the drivers of brand improvement in the relationship with own customers. Experiences, emotions, memories: three words contained in the customer experience.

To make it successful, the user experience will be increasingly personalized, thanks to technology. With Amazon Go the shopping experience is completely revolutionized and innovative (go to the store, get the product you need and go out without stopping physically at the checkout. Don’t worry, the bill comes anyway!). With the Supermarket of the Future of Coop, first launched as a prototype at EXPO Milano 2015 and the following year in the flesh at the Bicocca Village, also in Milan, the shopping experience in the supermarket becomes more and more technological. As with the Hema Supermarket of Alibaba Group, within which offline and online continue their merger. Choose offline, in the store, make your orders online and in the meantime, they will be delivered at home, within half an hour (will it be Amazon Prime Air drones?).

Take a Tour of a Hema Supermarket and Experience “New Retail” from the Alibaba Group YouTube channel.

Will store employees be replaced by the machines? This is the dystopia that at times makes us shake our wrists. What is certain is that it will change the way we work. Indeed, it is already changing. But no fear, even the machines have their limits: for an immediate but above all targeted advice, we will continue to choose the support of experts. Humans, of course.