There will always be a place for shops who are doing it right, but the customer experience is going to change radically, blogs Maurice Urlings.
On the other side of the street, bargain hunters are laying Dutch department store V&D to rest. Judging from the number of to-let signs in shop windows, many in the centre of this Dutch town preceded the department store. Mainly elderly shoppers visit the shops that today still exist. Two teenage girls cycle past. How are they going to shop in the future? How will their children shop? What is their customer experience?
I imagine a Sunday morning five years from now. The two girls, now young women, chat about the latest collection from Krochet Kids that they’ve seen. The smartphone, already commonplace, is kitted out with voice recognition and is listening, too. It doesn’t even raise an eyebrow with the two. Privacy to the Instagram generation is simply not what it used to be to their parents and grandparents. Isn’t it only to your benefit if a brand knows what you want and what fits you?
The smartphone captures the discussion about the collection and produces the clothes on their Google lens, the successor of Google glasses.
‘How would this look on me?’ one of them asks.
‘Have a look’, the other says.
They take over the picture from each other’s lens and the smartphone uploads the item of clothing on the lens. The one sees herself in a new dress through the lens of the other. ‘Should I?’ The manufacture already knows that this young woman buys 80 per cent of what she tries on. A drone is already flying to her house with the dress.
The Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said that predicting is a precarious matter, certainly where it concerns the future. He was right there, but his opinion actually only works for entirely new inventions. Inventing something entirely new is something that perhaps a few thousand people in the entire world can do. I have no illusion that I’m one of them. I apply the other way of innovating: connecting what is already there. The customer experience of the two teenagers is the result of putting together existing ingredients: KNEX for innovators.
Google, for instance, is already working on smart lenses that monitor health or serve as varifocal glasses. Voice recognition is a standard feature of smartphones and is getting better and better. We recognise cognitive systems that ‘think along’ and learn with you from IBM’s Watson. Amazon is working hard on delivery drones. And trying on clothes virtually? Students from the fashion academy got inspired by the games industry, had themselves 3D scanned and are experimenting with virtual passes. There are those who design their entire collection virtually, as this clip from Bright TV shows. It saves wasting fabric, one of the students says. They can even create the effect of wind on a dress. We’re waiting on the party that’s actually going to bring this all together.
It is rather expected that my future scenario doesn’t go far enough. The Chinese company Alibaba is already working on virtual reality in its e-commerce activities. Sports-clothes maker Adidas is going for a superfast production method, the Speed Factory, enabled by smart robot technology. It offers the possibility of a tailor-made dress if a woman liked it or starts mass production if 80 per cent of women has given the thumbs-up. By sharing the picture of the new dress, the new collection becomes reality. Also possible: increasing the ever-important customer loyalty by allowing her to choose her own colour or adapt the logo. Personalisation, in other words.
Perhaps even Adidas’ Speed Factory is chasing after the facts. Because, why shouldn’t we be printing our own clothes in a couple of years? At the moment, hardware, as so often, is still the restricting factor. But printers are improving rapidly. Printing our own clothes would make the circle round: just like our ancestors, we’ll be making our own clothes
Author: Maurice Urlings, manager at KPMG