Digital Experiences in the Physical World

Let’s take a walk down memory lane: Remember when everyone had house phones? When Caller ID was an exciting, new feature? You’d answer the phone, saying the caller’s name, just to hear the surprise in their voice saying, “How did you know?”

Remember holding your paper map in one hand while steering with the other, trying to figure out which exit to take? That was just a few years ago. When you think about how quickly change takes place, it puts “the future” into perspective. Future technology exists now. Wearables are here. Not only is Virtual Reality here, but you can find it in a cereal box. Drones are here. Hoverboard-adjacent tech is all the rage in celebrity circles: See Wiz Khalifa’s airport scuffle. So what’s next?

With each emerging technology, experiences have become increasingly personalized. And as they have, people have come to expect individualized experiences. We went from looking at an entire map and planning our route, to having a dedicated GPS tasked solely with getting us to our destination. That technology is now ubiquitous, and one of the costs of entry into the mobile handset space. Wearables are busy gathering personal metrics, holding the promise of a better you. Google probably knows more about me than I know about myself, which is a small price to pay for the very best in free email services. In today's world, one's fingertips hold the keys to unlock a never-ending parade of targeted, relevant and personalized digital experiences.

The physical world has been grappling with this change. Bookstores aren’t sure how to compete with Amazon. The benefit of the in-store, human experience has been made almost irrelevant by the digital personalization efforts—which is ironic because there should be no greater personalized experience than what a person receives in a flagship store. So how do real companies, with physical locations and real people compete? They have to begin to use the technologies at hand to create a personalized experience. They can no longer view technology as something that exists outside their realm, they have to embrace it, and they have to utilize it or risk becoming obsolete.

iBeacons

The obvious answer here, is to utilize iBeacon technology. We’ve worked on demos for consumer retailers, showcasing the way that this technology can be used to enhance the shopping experience. In one demo, we shared an app that integrates into a person’s daily life. Through this app, a consumer who identifies with the brand would share details about themselves, their interests, their preferences, and their mood to receive inspirational messaging tailored to how they feel on a given day. When the consumer walks into a store associated with the brand, they can activate the app, allowing the collected data—and strategically placed iBeacons—to guide them to the items they’re most likely to find appealing.

This merging of technology and a personalized in-store experience is the direction retailers are moving. Consumers want a tailored experience, and stores have to respond.The possibilities are endless, and as each new technology emerges, another door is opened.

Imagine walking into a furniture store. Instead of having to guess at the way the furniture will look in your space and how you’d arrange it, picture using virtual reality to give you that customized experience, showing you your living room with the new furniture.

Custom Experience, Custom Product

We had a few visitors in our office this summer. A few kids from Turning Points For Children engaged in a brainstorming session with members of our team. We threw out this scenario: Imagine you’re going shoe shopping. You’re looking for a pair of sneakers. What would your dream scenario look like?

We were struck by the way they immediately moved towards customization options. Not only did they want technology to be used to help them select the sneakers they’d like, they wanted the ability to design their own shoes and receive the custom order instantly. They wanted to add features that are relevant to their lives. One person threw out a phone-charging slot being built into the soles of sneakers (it would charge as a person walks, utilizing their body’s energy and activity level). They didn’t want to deal with the nuisance of physically trying on the shoes. They wanted tech to show them what the shoes would look like if they were wearing them, and to indicate comfort level—how it would feel walking, running, standing, dancing.

Essentially, they wanted an online experience, in store. They wanted the feedback you get from reviews, tailored to their bodies and needs. They wanted to take shoes home, confident that they would fit, without having to try them on. They wanted to make shoes that reflected their personality instead of just choosing from an assembly line of options.

These kids are teenagers. As their generation and the ones that follow demand personalized experiences, retailers will respond.

Human interaction is key

Stores in the physical world still have an edge. Even the most targeted tech can miss some of the nuances in human behavior, intention, and desire. When stores marry technology and the human element, they’ll be able not only to collect business intelligence but to provide a world-class shopping experience.

So what do you think is around the corner? How long do you think it will be before the in-store experience mimics and surpasses online shopping?