Physical stores will soon employ less humans but offer better customer experience. So say innovation leaders in the retail technology space. While this might be an answer to the staff shortages and worker strikes plaguing businesses post-pandemic what will it mean for the average shopper?
“Avatarizing service people” is how Germany-based software developers Humanizing Technology are approaching it. “Self-service kiosks and instore info-points are neither friendly nor welcoming,” CEO Tim Schuster told FashionUnited. “Nor are they intuitive, and they cannot offer assistance beyond basic transactions.”
True to their name their aim is to “bring humanity into technology and robots into society,” yet Schuster also emphasized the importance of “emotionalizing engagement,” adding, “Our interactive avatars offer a unique opportunity for today’s tech-savvy customers.”
The company’s highly agreeable looking cartoon avatars do indeed appear to offer a full-service experience: they can welcome and direct the customer through the store, recommend product, promote special offers and provide customer service. They can up- and cross-sell and engage with the public in multiple languages while their appearances can represent cultural diversity as well as brand loyalty.
All the devices need is power and to be connected to the internet and consumers interact with them the same way as they would a tablet. Retailers that adopt the technology are subject to no expensive hardware or maintenance costs and have access to 24-7 help and sign on to a pay-as-you-go system whereby each “go” is an interaction between customer and avatar.
Humanizing Technologies also entered into partnership with Temi, a robot manufacturer from India, to offer consumers an ever greater level of personal attention. A vertical unit, that assumes the general form of a vacuum cleaner topped with a screen, can engage with the consumer and then accompany them through the store on a guided tour or bring the consumer directly to the item they are seeking. Pleasantly chatty, smart and fast, the Temi robot’s entire raison d’être is to ensure the customer is well taken care of. Expect to see these little novelties scurrying around a store near you soon.
Verizon’s Proto, a holographic human, has already been adopted by Burberry and is currently being rolled out across flagship stores in time for the new season’s collections. A 3D hologram that twirls and poses just like a showroom model appears as if in a large box, so lifelike she even casts a shadow, while a voiced narrative talks the viewer, whether that be a store manager, sales team, or room full of VIP clients, through the outfit: Samantha is wearing the miniskirt suit in classic traditional check with matching slides and shoulder bag. Then a 3D image of the leather handbag appears which, with a tap of the screen, opens up to reveal the luxury detailing inside, the plush lining, hidden pockets, the all-important authenticity label. With a few more taps, the customer can customize the item by choosing from a color palette among a menu of other details. Traditionally luxury shoppers have been disinclined to make purchases based on an internet thumbnail picture. They want to be able to rotate, zoom and examine their investment item down to the smallest detail. Now they can. It gives new meaning to the term “window shopping.”
With 3D holograms such as Verizon’s Proto entering the retail field, we get a “full body effect” all important for reading how fabric falls, how items fit, as well as communicating all the cues from body language—gesture, posture, attitude—so essential to the business of selling fashion.
The possibilities are endless. During London Fashion Week, a New York-based client could be invited to her local store to drink champagne and watch the latest runway looks live just as if she’s sitting in the front row. "Burberry see it as a way of bringing their VIPs closer to the brand,” James Hughes, Verizon’s Chief Technology Officer, told FashionUnited. He described a successful implementation at supermarket chain Tesco when the CEO was unable to travel for a conference but his hologram self was beamed right into the conference room to deliver his speech to the assembled team members. IWC have also used Proto to welcome Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton into the Denver Broncos' ownership group. Forget air miles and perhaps even forget Zoom. Brands can now bring their brand ambassador, influencers or employees to every meeting, in multiple locations, at the same time.
Kiryl Chykeyuk CEO and Founder of holographic display manufacturer Hypervsn holograms, founded in London in 2011, told FashionUnited at the NRF Retail Big Show in January in New York, that they have “gone into overdrive in the past year” having brought two new products to market, one medium-sized and one large scale, both boasting groundbreaking brightness, pixel pitch, and detail. Products can be custom scaled to suit any environment. Without getting too technical, when the pixels are further apart, the viewer needs to stand further back to enjoy the content making the unit ideal for larger spaces like department stores and airports, while the closer pixels of the smaller unit are ideal for luxury boutiques.
Hypervsn SmartV Digital Avatar allows 2-way interaction with a digitally rendered human avatar bringing the Metaverse to the physical world allowing real-time conversations with users.
With much of the interactive holographic solutions customers can change content by voice control or by simply swiping the screen. Other times a camera will capture the initial specifics of the consumer (age, gender, gestures) and manipulate the content to suit the information it picks up.
Another of Hypervsn’s offerings is a high definition product display, in this case, a sneaker, that appears to be floating in midair at eye level, every design feature crystal clear. It is designed to capture the attention of even the most casual passerby and thereby drive foot traffic.
“Connecting with audiences all over the world is more and more defined by digital-only technology. But standing out is more important than ever before,” said Chykeyuk. “We mark the ascent on both retail and entertainment and give leading brands tools that simply did not exist before.”
Digital helpers, digital mannequins, green screens and avatars, it’s a phygital world and we just live in it.