Technology and Retail Experience. It’s Not an Option.

April 12, 2022

Our Retail Technology Strategist, Patrick Madden, explores how retailers can use technology to create meaningful brand experiences.

It’s no secret; technology’s role in the retail world is more important today than ever before, yet many retailers find themselves paralyzed by the dizzying frequency of new advancements. As best described by ChangeUp’s Bill Chidley, “Change is approaching even faster than we can sense, what is deemed new can become old in a single earth rotation.”

Existing technologies like augmented reality, computer vision, and artificial intelligence are all advancing and evolving faster than retailers can react, and emerging technologies like metaverses, NFTs, and blockchain are attracting broad attention and interest. Yet, how are retailers supposed to prioritize what to pursue when you don’t have a blank check for capital investments in technology? While emphasis has historically been placed on technology that correlates to incremental revenue, these days, the line between driving business value and creating meaningful experiences has been blurred – solving this challenge is not an option.

ChangeUp works with clients across the retail landscape to re-imagine the possibilities that exist at the intersection of technology and retail experience. It has become common for brands to need a “digital-first” approach to customer interaction. Our work with skincare brand Revea, for instance, represents a complete reinvention of the skincare experience through a digital-first buying journey. The brand has been designed from the ground up as a digital experience that creates a more intimate relationship. Revea’s revolutionary approach to skincare culminates in a deeply personalized experience tailored to each customer’s individual needs. At their physical location, State-of-the-art diagnostic equipment distills complex skin data into an easy-to-understand report and used to develop a customer-specific skincare regiment.

Another brand making a splash in the retail world is Switzerland-based On Running. When they opened their first flagship storefront in New York City in late 2020, it was clear that On wanted to make it known that this was no ordinary shoe buying experience; this was a physical manifestation of their performance obsessed and technology-driven culture. The centerpiece of the experience is On’s proprietary “Magic Wall” – a behemoth 60 foot wide and 10-foot-tall double-sided wall that puts technology at the center of the brand proposition versus merely a “wow” moment. The front side of the wall features a high-tech run analyzer that uses dozens of hidden sensors and cameras to record specific measurements about your stride as you run past it. The data collected is compared against tens of thousands of other runner profiles in their database to recommend the perfect pair for you – all within seconds. The rear side of the magic wall is home to an impressive display of On’s shoes – every type of shoe in their product line. Expandable cabinets inside the wall house even more inventory. While the technology inside the store is core to the entire experience, On’s purposeful and unobtrusive integration leans on their store staff (or “advisors”) to walk customers through the journey from start to finish.

Digital-native brands aren’t the only ones to seamlessly execute on the blending of technology and brick-and-mortar. For decades, Home Depot has prided itself on being the one-stop shop for DIY projects, and customers have come to rely on their employees for deep and insightful product knowledge. Home Depot has invested heavily in reproducing this experience through its digital channels, giving customers the same great product-driven shopping experience from the convenience of home. Rather than utilizing an off-the-shelf software solution from an outside vendor, as most retailers do, Home Depot’s in-house data science team developed their own recommendation engines. The process involved the training of advanced artificial intelligence models using trillions of data points, using dozens of attributes from every product they offer. The Home Depot team has created powerful visual-based engine that helps customers find aesthetically similar products in the same collection as well as session-based engines that can predict the most likely item a customer will add to their cart next based on what’s already in the cart. Plus, Home Depot is slated to launch a next-generation recommendation model later this year which will recognize trends in real-time browsing behaviors to understand the type of project the customer is working on and recommend appropriate products, how-to guides, and more.

At ChangeUp, we believe that there is no longer a distinction between digital and physical experience. We work with our clients to get past these artificial boundaries to create truly great experiences that rethink the roles of what happens on a screen and what happens in bricks and mortar, to complement, not contradict. We are currently innovating game-changing experiences ranging from buying tires to welcoming newborns.

The challenge at hand for retailers today is leveraging technology thoughtfully to innovate their brand experience – technology solely for technology’s sake is no longer a viable strategy. With technology advancing as rapidly as it is, the mission needs to focus on integrating technology in ways that feel intuitive and seamless while providing value and exciting differentiation.