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Innovations in Omni Channel Retailing
By Dwight D. Hill, The Retail Advisory LLC

"Dropping the walls" is an imperative that should be the goal at the top of each retailer's "to do" list for 2013. Your customers are increasingly sophisticated, empowered by mobile technologies that deliver innovative shopping experiences and product research at their fingertips. In a world where the store walls no longer exist, you as a retailer are challenged as your customers are no longer defining you as a store or website, but as a brand. Several technologies are emerging that will continue to drive innovations in your customer's shopping experience.

The Next Generation Shopping Cart. Chaotic Moon Labs has begun testing an innovative shopping cart that acts almost like your own guide through the store - with a conscience. Upon arrival at the grocery store, you send a text message to the cart's built-in tablet computer. Now it knows who you are and your built-in preferences through the application tell it what you normally shop for as well as any dietary restrictions you may have. Motion sensor technology tied to GPS guides you through the store to pick up the products on your list including (this is where the conscience part comes in) warning you if you've added something that violates your dietary restrictions. The best part - every item that you place into the cart is automatically scanned, allowing you to complete your purchase via the device - and skip the checkout line entirely! Implications for the Operations team:assuming the technology is weather-proof, stores will need a process to keep better tabs on your carts (no lost carts in the parking lot!), and a centralized bagging area will have to be established for customers to bag their own groceries or have bagging help available, if needed.

Personalizing the Shopping Experience through Augmented Reality. According to Juniper Research, over 2.5 billion augmented reality apps will be downloaded annually by 2017. But what exactly is it? Augmented reality is an app that combines reality with a digital overlay allowing customers to virtually try on apparel or provide product information when panning your smartphone down the grocery aisle or over an image. recently launched a version of this, allowing customers to take a photo of their window and overlay various window covering options. IBM has further developed this technology for the grocery world allowing customers to see additional product information. In a world where the customer is demanding information and convenience, both coupons and special offers can be shown along with the product. Implications for the Marketing team: this technology is very new. Before any benefits can be achieved, retailers will need to increase customer awareness understanding of the technology through in store displays or print advertising. In addition, retail marketers will have a field day with this additional medium to communicate with and create differentiated interactions with their customers.

Virtual Window Displays. Mannequin-manufacturers beware - the days of the dusty mannequins standing in the store window may be numbered! Tablet technology is rapidly advancing to a future state where a user can interact with not only a touch screen, but with a wall. Bloomingdales recently put a version of this into practice in their Manhattan store. Virtual reality technology was installed in several windows that allowed customers to see what designer sunglasses looked like on them. Passers by simply had to stop and align their eyes to ovals in the windows and the sunglasses appear around them. They also tried this with shoes, allowing customers to customize a pair of Havaianas on the spot while standing on the street; they could then reserve the shoes for purchase there within the store. Think of the partnership implications for web-only retail - could this enable a partnership option for web-only retailers like or to gain additional exposure? Implications for the Merchandising and the Visual teams:is the day coming when all of your store windows can be changed, or promotions and sales be kicked off, all at the click of a button with little to no store labor?

While this year may not bring tablet-enabled shopping carts, augmented reality at our nearest grocery stores, or virtual window displays at the local department store, the trend is still clear - technology is rapidly driving innovations in the way your customer can interact with your business. Just as mobile technology and e-commerce have created new touch points, retailers must remember the customer is no longer thinking in terms of your "store" or your "website," but is shopping you as a brand. The successful retailers of the future will be those that are leveraging these technological innovations to continuously listen and respond to their customer!

Dwight D. Hill, Founder and Managing Director, The Retail Advisory LLC
Dwight D. Hill, whose background includes leadership roles with Neiman Marcus and Deloitte LLP, is Founder and Retailer Strategist, The Retail Advisory LLC. Dwight can be reached at