The future of retail therapy

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From buying to creating: The new consumer experience is at hand

From brick-and-mortar to click-and-carton, the emergence of online shopping has enabled consumers to shop when they want and decide where they will receive it.

But soon, technology will allow consumers to decide how they want it, with the melding of the virtual and the physical.

In China, Alibaba’s Hema grocery stores are rapidly changing the face of supermarket shopping. Hema taps on the need for consumers to inspect their goods and enjoy the full experience of traditional retail with a digital touch.

See a fish in the tank that you are thinking of buying? Tap your phone to find out more, and what it might even taste like. Big data also tracks consumers’ preferences, allowing the store to stock up on products that are highly demanded for.

Similarly, new augmented reality apps such as Google's ARCore will give consumers more control over their choices. For instance, buying a sofa can be a chore, especially having to measure the dimensions of the piece of furniture and checking if it fits your current décor.

But AR will allow you to place the sofa in your living room through the app to test out how it might look like before taking a single step into the furniture store.

In fact, the idea of buying is morphing into one of creating. Most consumers today are content with choosing what is on offer but the era of mass customisation is on the horizon.

For example, Levi’s offers personalised embroidery on jeans and denim jackets, while NIKEiD lets shoppers completely customise their sneakers for a truly unique pair.

With the advent and rise of 3D printing, consumers may soon be able to customise product to their needs at relatively affordable prices.

A new generation will further drive new consumer experiences

Known as Generation Alpha (Gen A) – children of Millennials born between 2012 and 2040 – are the first to grow up completely surrounded by digital technology. To them, rapid change has been the norm since their births, and they have greeted the onset of new technologies with not fear, but curiosity and enthusiasm.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle – who coined the term “Generation Alpha” – calls for us to reimagine how interacting with the next generation looks like. He recommends a shift “from structural and auditory to engaging, visual, multimodal and hands-on methods”.

The implications are enormous. Take education for instance. Rather than transmitting knowledge within traditionally demarcated subjects, the role of educators will shift towards developing skills that will help Gen A leverage their finesse with technology. Imagine Augmented Reality (AR) as a norm to take students beyond the physical confines of a classroom.

These Alpha kids, who are used to the Internet of Toys, will eventually grow up to become Alpha consumers. This will necessarily mean a shift to new ways of engaging them.

For one thing, apart from the point and touch experience from their childhoods, Gen A will become increasingly reliant on voice. Instead of screens, voices from devices will become the primary mode of interaction between human and computer. Apple’s Siri was just the start.

While the Millennial Generation saw the separation between physical and digital, Gen A consumers will blend both the physical and the virtual. New modes of interaction, from AR to virtual reality, will become default for the Gen A adults. Expect big brands to embrace AR – especially with the rise of wearable technology – in a big way.

With this, Gen A consumers will also expect experiences to become more tailored and customised. Machine learning, aided by supercomputers, will become more common as brands race to better predict the needs and preferences of this new group of consumers. 

Gen A will drive an age of creative engagement as brands think harder on new, innovative ways of delivering authentic consumer experiences in a digital world.

Find out more about the United Global Innovation Fund, which invests in innovative companies across various industries.

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