Trends shaping the future of online shopping (PT1 – Phygital)

Future Gazing Series

Trends shaping the future of online shopping - Part 1: All things Phygital

When we posted our first future gazing article back in early 2020 discussing the role of enhanced shopping experiences, I’m not ashamed to admit the impact of a pandemic on peoples shopping habits was far from the front of mind at that point. Fast forward 12 months though and Ouch! The landscape is changed forever and everyone is still scrambling to truly understand what the full impact of the pandemic will be on our shopping habits.

I still believe a number of the points raised in the last future gazing post will be relevant for physical commerce experiences as retailers work hard to draw shoppers back to stores but at the time of writing we are still locked down and arguably there is a more pressing issue facing retailers. How to be prepared for the new generation of eCommerce and make online shopping more engaging and more fun.

Retailers and their technology partners are already rushing to innovate and experiment online, finding fresh ways to promote and sell their wares. I’ll explore some of the most thought-provoking trends in the next few future gazing articles and pick out some of the signals that have been developing over the last 12 months and discuss what might be coming next.

The necessity to go online to carry on some sort of normality has led to many more people and age groups becoming comfortable spending long periods of time online. But the general eCommerce experience has remained largely unchanged for the last decade and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for brands to stand out or compete with the mega dot coms. Reconfiguring shopping experiences to be more digital and immersive is not just a nice to have – it is a matter of life and death for modern retailers, those that don’t will struggle to compete in the new world and will eventually start to see their influence amongst shoppers shrinking. It is also a great hedge against further disruption or continued interruptions to physical retail in the future. Amazon has mastered our buying habits, but selecting items from a grid of very similar ones is only half the story, the art of shopping is more closely linked to our emotions. Brands that can digitally connect with us on a deeper level will be the ones that woo the online shoppers of the future. 

So what has been catching our eye and giving us a glimpse of what the future might hold, in this first blog post I’m going to cover all things Phygital.

Phygital is a term that encompasses anything blending digital experiences with physical ones and as new tech presents opportunities in this area, retailers have been jumping at the chance to explore how to adopt and adapt this new way of engaging shoppers. Nike and AKQA captured the potential of this reality/tech mashup with a recent project called Air Max Graffiti Stores. Sneaker culture is huge and Nike knows fans go wild for rare or limited edition shoes. So Nike and AKQA channelled that buyer enthusiasm and developed a phygital concept that utilised popular graffiti from the city of Sao Paulo with geolocation data. The result was a cultural experience that guided shoppers through a number of live citywide treasure hunts, transforming city walls into eCommerce stores. Proving to be a great way to energise new product launches and create a local buzz around the brand. You can find out more by watching this video detailing the Nike shopping event.

Image Copyright © Vuzix Corporation

Beyond outdoor experiences brands in a response to the pandemic have obviously been turning more attention towards the home and Phygital is proving to be an effective way to connect with consumers where ever they are. The AR enhanced store or virtual shopping portal has become an important part of many at-home marketing strategies. As WebAR technologies have improved, brands have started to integrate AR content into their existing sites and we have seen this trend go a step further with the introduction of fully augmented virtual stores. With the temporary closing of physical stores around the world, brands have been finding new ways to leverage their existing bricks and mortar and a number of tech partners are making it possible to completely digitise existing retail spaces making them permanently accessible and shoppable 24/7. This is also then being combined with AR content to make switching from store to virtual home trial as quick as a button press. Have a look at this video which takes you through a walk around of the FarFetch Milano virtual store.

Phygital Product launches and events also proved extremely useful in 2020 and look set to continue with their popularity in 2021. As global travel was restricted AR technology made it possible for brands to bring the show to audiences own homes and everything from fashion shows to Spotify song launches went phygital. Learn more about the possibilities of phygital fashion shows in this article from CondeNast College.

As well as the online waves that phygital experiences are making, more and more products are starting to appear which are designed to help retailers bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds. The likes of lululemon have been quick to jump on this trend and through their acquisition of start-up Mirror the creators of an interactive home gym, they appear to have spotted the potential for this product to drive a new type of omnichannel retail experience. The mirror is a physical-digital mirror that sits on your wall and acts Like a personalised workout experience, incorporating digital expert trainers with customised playlists and live training feedback. Mirror sounds like an experience from the future and is certainly capturing attention, but its real power comes from the fact it is acting as a direct interface into a person’s lifestyle. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture a situation where lululemon are using a mirror as a virtual changing room or offering seamless shopping suggestions through virtual assistants. In the wake of the pandemic, it looks like a very clever pivot from Lululemon but only time will tell if it turns into a profitable one.

Image Copyright © lululemon athletic

Along the same lines as digital mirrors, 2021 looks like it could see the re-emergence of smart glasses. Yes, something we thought had been relegated to the archives with the death of google’s AR glasses project, has been slowly bubbling away in the background and is now ready to hit the market again. Technology has caught up with the idea and less cumbersome and more fashionable models of Smart glasses will start to hit the shelves very shortly. The significance of glasses can’t be understated because retailers see them as the perfect product to introduce all day, everyday augmented reality experiences. Having something that goes everywhere with the shopper will enable brands to begin developing much more natural and immersive commerce opportunities. Experts suggest adoption of these devices by the public is likely to be slow again but as wearable tech has become more mainstream the majority of barriers to success have been removed or have eroded since the decline of the original google glasses project.

As these trends highlight there are signs of a definite shift towards more physical and digital interaction from brands and the exciting emergence of what many are calling the ‘Spatial Web’.

In next weeks post, we’ll take a look at the role of gaming in the future of eCommerce and explore the rise of the metaverse.

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