Ever walked into a shop wishing that you wore some kind of traffic signal, green for yes – please help me, amber for wait until I show interest or red – just stay away from me? You’re not alone. Retailers wish that they knew your browsing preference because learning what a customer wants as soon as they walk through the shop door is critical to keeping a high conversion rate. So it was only a matter of time until a tech company developed a notification system of this kind, likely to be attached to a particular retailer. Interestingly, it is the e-commerce unicorn Farfetch that has come out as champion of materialising an offline/online seamless store experience. Announced at the CNI conference in April 2017 by founder José Neves, Store of the Future (SoF) is data-driven and modular, thus customisable for retailers. And it gets even more interesting –SoF has ambitions to become an operating system that retailers can build upon for a product tailored to their needs.

 

If one considers the Farfetch model, it makes perfect sense. The luxury online store is a curation of exclusive designer boutiques worldwide. Holding hardly any inventory, their partners’ products are listed on the website akin to a marketplace, from which Farfetch takes a rumoured 22-30% commission from each sale. The premise of the website is to bring products that were only available offline into the online realm – for example, a seasonal Valentino that only an independent boutique in Milan has in stock is now made available to Farfetch’s global customer base. With Store of the Future, the online retailer is simply closing a loop and providing the consumer with the flexibility available when shopping online, in physical stores.

 

There’s more to this smart store than creating a profile of browsing preferences for customers and serving up a pick and mix model for retailers. The Store of the Future facilitates omnichannel shopping, which is centered around acute personalisation and emotional awareness. CEO Neves highlighted the 15,000 points of data collected during a simple five minute session on the website. From this, Farfetch learns about consumers’ shopping patterns and can deduce a wide variety of things from purchasing behaviour online.  Combining this information with the popularity of in-store shopping that is still prevalent, particularly for luxury-buyers, Neves has discovered a means to finally quantify ‘experience’. Needless to say, it’s an incredible resource for retailers, marketers and brands. Used well, it all lands incredibly close to, if not directly into the zone of emotionally intelligent brands.

 

The technology here goes beyond storing and sharing offline browsing preferences. The company that’s set to IPO in two years is experimenting with RFID (electromagnetic fields that can track and read information from tags) and even ultrasound, to detect items taken off the rails by customers. This information is used to create online wishlists within the app, to equip sales assistants with jumping off points for recommended products and the opportunity to create personalised retail experiences. The predictive, responsive nature of this innovation suggests a desire to anticipate a customer’s purchase and gives way to a new form of Wishlisting.

 

Arguably it’s one that is more ‘sincere’ than pinning virtual images of handbags, simply because having taken an article of clothing off a hanger demonstrates more of an intent to purchase. Store of the Future is set to be rolled out at the Farfetch owned Brown’s boutique in London and the Thom Browne flagship store in New York. And of course, every customer of SoF will also have to be a Farfetch client to take advantage of the technology.

 

When we analysed the impact of our trend The Versat-aisle Shopper on the retail sector, convenience reigned as a deciding factor between online and brick and mortar shopping. Not wanting to blow our own horn (but we will), our trend tracked since 2014, predicted that within the next five years, there will be ‘store apps that direct shoppers to products previously browsed online, and retail sites that recommend items that work with products purchased in-store’; something that is a near reality with SoF that is currently in beta. Also in The Versat-aisle Shopper, Foresight Factory foresaw that future innovations like ‘shoppable screens’ would encourage seamlessness between online and offline purchases. Store of the Future is looking at rolling out smart mirrors in stores that allow customers to swap clothing, interact with sales assistants via Whatsapp and even pay in the privacy of a changing room. It is notable to see how relationship building and management will be guided by the consumer and take place on applications familiar to them, for example, a messaging app that they already use on their smartphones.

 

When Store of the Future was announced, Neves pointed to “virtual reality, emotion-scanning software, and innovative payment options” as components of SoF. This suggests that the smart store will allow brands to intimately understand their customers, consciously monitoring their emotional responses and constantly upgrading their customer service, without having to spend hours on retraining staff. Becoming an emotionally intelligent brand will be more achievable than before, because although Farfetch’s brainchild has laid its foundations in the world of luxury retail, it has a notably democratic factor. By putting consumer data in the hands of any SoF adopter, every retailer has the chance to compete for the hearts of the consumer. However, their success will be very much based on their ability to adapt their business to Farfetch’s emotionally aware technology. The defining point to the great popularity potential of SoF is that this product will be just as valuable to the consumer as will be to brands. After all, we’re quite happy to share if it means that we can receive the kind of service that’s perfect for us.

Interested in retail and the related trends? Read about the Future of USA Supermarkets here.

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