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Opinion: omnichannel opportunities

Rob Lane looks at how technology is set to transform high streets.

In the

” target=”_blank”>February issue, I discussed how retail is on the cusp of huge change. Internet retail is informing a lot of key decisions for the high street – many involving AV – as retailers look to integrate bricks-and-mortar shopping experiences more seamlessly with the virtual. Some call this hybrid retail, others omnichannel retail, but the meaning is the same: a seamless shopping experience across all retail platforms.

After writing that piece, I coincidentally started working with two new clients – both Finnish, again coincidentally. Both are looking to exploit the omnichannel retail ‘revolution’. They offer interactive windows to draw customers into store; and cloud-based 3D visual sales platforms dovetailing with in-store VR/4K ‘showrooms’ – typical of the kind of AV that retailers are looking to integrate into their high-street businesses.

Not just chains

It’s not just the huge chains that are looking to ring the changes – although they do tend to have the deepest pockets. While the interactive window manufacturer’s first client was a jewellery chain’s flagship store, a one-shop high-end hi-fi retailer is considering something similar.

Indeed, another client – an established fulfiller of holographic effects – was recently asked to fit out a new spectacles and sunglasses store, set to open in London’s Covent Garden. Again, this is a luxury outlet, but not a multiple-store chain.

It’s clear that, in the more premium retail outlets – particularly flagships – there’s a growing expectation that not only will the online shopping experience be replicated or dovetailed in some way (perhaps by a touch table or display where online meets in-store), but that there’ll be a technology wow factor to pull people inside, engage with them and also augment the high-end nature of the goods. AV tech, and the ability to integrate it in an intelligent and meaningful way, is becoming essential to the future of high-street retail.

Indeed, according to a white paper by Aspire Systems, the five stages of in-store customer experience (Invitation, Discovery, Evaluation, Fulfilment, Extension) can be brought alive with the right technology, and an understanding of the importance of tech in meeting customer demands is essential in an omnichannel environment.

There was certainly evidence of omnichannel tech at ISE this year: touch tables with advanced object recognition to provide premium stores with wow factors and also web-shop overlaps; LFD touch solutions to bring large tablet-like displays into store; mounting solutions for huge videowalls; and more experiential hologram and 3D solutions.

Some of the winners of Installation’s own Best of Show awards at ISE had omnichannel possibilities. These included Sharp’s stunning PN-V701 70in 4K videowall system, intended for retail, public display and office use; and Stream TV Networks’ glasses-free 3D display technology, a proprietary combination of hardware and software “working in perfect sync”.

Filling whole walls

Another winner that will see use in omnichannel installations was Leyard’s seriously ingenious DirectLight LED Video Wall System. Intended for multiple wall displays, the solution is front-install mounting specifically for Leyard/Planar 27in panels with ultra-fine pixel pitch arrays – allowing for unlimited tiling to create huge LED walls with no bezels. The flexibility and ease of use could see retailers filling whole walls with LED.

The ultimate cross-channel tech? Certainly it would fulfil the Aspire white paper’s conclusions. “There is clearly a need for retailers to… invest in technologies that not only create a fantastic in-store experience but also allow shoppers to channel-hop without friction,” says the report. “To connect with the digital shopper, physical stores must function as cross-channel hubs that place the customer at the center of action and provide experience on multiple levels. […Only] when digital shoppers can weave their narrative through an Omni-channel journey, can physical stores go beyond transactions to holistic micro-moment transformations!”

According to a 2015 IDC Retail Insights study, cross-channel shoppers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel. As more and more retailers appreciate just how valuable it is to transform into omnichannel hubs, there’ll be a greater demand for AV tech and more business for integrators – assuming the annual business rate rises don’t bite too hard.

All hail the hybrid!