With the way technology has seamlessly become a part of most everyone’s daily routine, it’s begun to feel like we are living in the future. This is most apparent to the modern consumer, whose experience has been made more convenient and interactive due in no small part to the progression of retail technology. However, as innovations advance at an accelerated rate, it can be a challenge to keep up with the vocabulary of the times. The following buzzwords may become a regular part of every shopper’s vernacular in 2017:
VR/AR/MR (Enhanced Reality) – According to the Harvard Business Review, “the successful incorporation of VR and AR into retail models… has the potential to vastly change the way retailers are thinking about stores of the future.” This mainly has to do with the harmonious integration of in-store and online shopping.
Firstly, it’s important to know the difference between these terms. What they have in common is that all of them involve the interaction between the real world and synthetic or imagined reality. Virtual Reality (VR) is a scenario in which 100% of the reality being perceived is synthetic, usually produced by a digital screen. An example of this is the increasingly frequent appearance of head-mounted displays like those promoted by Google and Samsung, which allow the user to mount their smartphone to a mask in front of their eyes.
Augmented Reality (AR) creates an environment where the user is viewing their real-world surroundings but with added synthetic components. Examples of AR include Google Glass and Pokémon Go.
Mixed Reality (MR) is like AR in that it combines synthetic elements with the actual environment, except that those elements can then interact. MR is the most experimental of the three and few examples are currently available at market, although the potential has the tech community aflame with excitement. After the 50th anniversary CES (Consumer Electronics Show), John Falcone of CNET predicted that “fifty years from now, the CES show floor may be some hybrid of the real and virtual world… start appreciating the fact that you’re already living in the future.”
Synthetically altered reality has already begun transforming the retail landscape in that it can allow consumers to experience products as they would in a store environment, in the comfort of their own home. Obviously the challenge this creates for retailers is how to continue to draw shoppers to the store, a problem that can also be solved by interactive technology.
Beacon Technology – Beacons were originally innovated by Apple (iBeacons) and are a Bluetooth device that stores can install which allows them to interact with shoppers’ smartphones while they are either inside the store, or nearby. Depending on the apps that consumers choose to have on their smartphones, stores can use Beacons to send users notifications about store locations and incentives to compel them to enter the store. Once inside, the shopper can “check in” to receive product information and rewards on their phone through the beacon. At checkout, shoppers can even skip the lines and pay via the Beacon technology using the store’s mobile app or other payment apps such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet.
UI/UX – User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) are terms used to refer to the design of a digital product. They’re commonly used interchangeably or lumped together because “…the line between them tends to blur,” as Mechtronics’ Art Director Amy Lasagna explains. “One way to explain the difference is that UI is a component of UX—but it doesn’t end there. Each plays a different role and sets out to accomplish its own set of objectives. Simply put: UI serves to make the shopper’s interaction as straightforward as possible—graphic design supports this. UX, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with a user being able to complete a specified task—one based on business goals.”
So when a digital product, for example a smartphone app or Mechtronics’ Sun Care Innovation Aisle, is being created, both User Interface and User Experience need to harmoniously contribute to the final result. “Where the two meet,” Lasagna continues, “is in presenting a user with one seamless—and beautiful—digital experience.”
Omni-channel – With so many retail platforms now available, consumers are able to shop at the same store at the physical location, online, on their mobile app, and beyond. This type of shopping is referred to as omni-channel. Julie Kreuger of thinkwithGoogle notes that “the most sophisticated retailers are ensuring their marketing strategies are geared toward enabling customers to convert on any channel… Because they realize that a shopper who buys from them in-store and online is their most valuable kind of customer.” The more channels at which a customer can shop, the more sales are possible. It also creates a convenient and interactive experience, which is attractive to the modern consumer.
Taking inventory of progressive strides already made as well as anticipating things to come is part of embarking in a new year. “There is an atmosphere of excitement at Mechtronics in taking on the challenge of implementing and delivering custom solutions which incorporate these new technologies,” remarks Director of Software Development, Rich Fellinger, Jr. With conventions and trade shows on the horizon, such as Globalshop in March, all of us in the industry are eager to demonstrate innovations of the past year as well as gain inspiration for the coming one.
“It’s great to see all this technology coming into the retail world,” adds Fellinger. “It’s making it possible for shoppers to experience brand identification and education in a rich and interactive way.” As technology continues to be an aid and a necessity both within and outside of the retail world, there’s much to learn and to look forward to in the coming months and beyond.