The Retail Environment of Tomorrow

It has quickly become something of a marketing commonplace to say that consumers today aren’t just interested in purchases or offers but, increasingly, in experiences. If that’s the case (and I believe it is) then hats off to HPE for going the extra mile to deliver such a compelling, immersive experience at a genuinely exclusive event for senior retail movers and shakers last month.

For one day only, HPE transformed the lower-ground level of their new Customer Experience Centre in the City into a little slice of the near future – a real-world retail environment of tomorrow.

Inspirational speakers (including Cate Trotter the founder and Head of Trends at Retail Trends) set the scene with a couple of visually engaging presentations which underlined the experiential imperative. Examples of retailers using innovation instore revealed a global customer-base actively hungry for differentiated, engaging experiences. For many of these we’re starting to see the smart, engaging usage of technologies which have in fact been around for a while including RFID, beacons, instore iPads, digital signage, HD touchscreens, facial recognition, and so forth.



HPE then presented a whole ‘pop-up’ area for an “interactive store tour” which managed to encompass various retail environments including fashion and grocery. Some of the innovative applications featured included:

A Virtual Assistant (all through a mobile app) which offers a value-added experience for the shopper and to which intelligent personalisation is key. From meeting and greeting through to wayfinding, onwards through stock checking and associate engagement, all the way through to an immediate survey gauging satisfaction with instore experience.

The Digital Shelf can both brighten up the store in surprising and differentiated ways, and can drive immediate upsell. Insight about customers’ intent – or just their past purchase history – can be used to trigger hyper-personalised offers or suggestions. Sticking with shelves, another innovation was the smart shelf which logged its own inventory and requested restocks as appropriate.

Magic mirrors are proving a little bit ‘marmite’ with both retailers and shoppers alike – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em.  I’d have placed myself in the cynical category but have to admit that the technology has reached a level of maturity which now delivers a professional and exciting experience. Mark Tritton (HPE’s Director of Digital Customer Experience) demonstrated a mirror able to identify whatever piece of clothing he was holding, create an immediate image of what it would look like on him, and also recommend other items or accessories for upsell.

Next-generation Heat Maps deliver a compelling, accurate picture of exactly who has been where instore, and when. This allows retailers to gauge dwell-time and make optimal improvements either to physical store layout or to shelf inventory in order to deliver the greatest sales and best customer experience instore. Heat maps can reveal surprising insights around customers and staff alike.



Retailers were then allowed a peek behind the scenes to see how the magic was done, with speakers from companies such as HPE, Aruba and Zynstra explaining the software and hardware beneath all.

The technologies I mention above may well not be new to you; but for me there was something about seeing them all – about being able to use them all – in conjunction, delivered with joined-up thinking (and yes, joined-up technology) in situ that really focused the mind on what the future of retail might really look like and feel like. It was an eye-opening event which I’m sure left many of the assembled retailers inspired.

All in all, it made for a truly compelling experience.  Which is what retailers are now supposed to be delivering, after all.