One of the most remarkable things about the retail experience today is how thoroughly mediated it is. More and more, shopping is something that we do via technology—and through the prism of experiences that technology makes possible.
Shopping has, of course, been a mediated act at least since the rise of the advertising industry, with its power to beguile us with narratives about the products we buy. But the rise of digital technology, with all its ubiquity and power, has brought the phenomenon to a new level of intensity.
These days, a retailer can still tell a brand story using a conventional print advertisement or a thirty-second commercial. But the retailer can do a lot of other things, too. It can present to passersby an interactive shop window display that diverts them and maybe even coaxes them into placing online orders as they stand there, smartphones in hand. It can deploy an ingenious augmented or virtual reality experience that draws the shopper across the threshold into the store itself. It can expose shoppers to immersive showrooms that offer unprecedented consumer experiences. It can lure us into “multi-sensorial” shops where olfactory and other stimuli play a role in compelling us towards a sale. And that’s just the beginning.
The sky, in other words, is increasingly the limit.
This report is an attempt to sketch out the state of the art in retail messaging and technology today. It’s a moment when new tech, on the one hand, and the need to reconceive the in-store experience for the ecommerce era, on the other, have generated a feverish—one might even say desperate—creativity.