Why the Digital Store could be the future of retail

6th Jun 2017

Digital technology has advanced greatly in so many different areas of retail that the dream of a full digital store has now been realised. The digital store involves integrating multiple retail technologies to enhance the shopping experience.

At the moment, most retailers use some of these advanced technologies in isolation. With the first digital stores causing a buzz, will all stores move towards a more fully-integrated digital model?

Which retailers are opening digital stores and how do they work?

At a conference in London’s Design Museum this April, clothing retailer Farfetch debuted their version of the digital store concept, which is due to launch in London’s Browns boutique later this year.

Farfetch’s shopping experience is digital from start to finish. Customers scan their smartphones as they walk in. This activates their consumer profiles, giving the store access to lots of information, and allowing shoppers to take full advantage of the digital possibilities in store.

Of these possibilities, one of the most innovative is the smart rail. The smart rail uses RFID technology to record which items shoppers pick up and save them in a list on their phones. The customers can then browse back through everything they looked at and swipe them, Tinder-style, to indicate whether they like them or dislike them.

The Farfetch concept continues into the fitting room, where RFID tags are used once again, this time to allow 3D images of garments to appear in AR-equipped mirrors when the customer hangs items on a rail. The mirrors also let shoppers pay for items right there and then via an online checkout next to their reflections.

Away from the clothing industry, coffee chain Starbucks has also slowly started rolling out a digital store called Reserve. Currently located in London and Seattle, Reserve stores have a fully digital ordering system, meaning customers place their orders on tablets and wait for the expert baristas to use more high tech gadgets to make their drinks. While they wait, customers can wirelessly charge their phones and make use of the superfast wifi.

Also in London, not too far from Reserve, online homeware retailer Made.com has brought their ecommerce business into the offline world with a digital store, or ‘showroom’ as they sometimes refer to it.

The Made.com store has some products on display, like in a normal furniture store, but it utilises digital projection to create an ever-changing store design. This is good for both the customer and the retailer, as it allows the store to update its display throughout the year without having to physically redecorate or transport new products and props around.

Other digital software implemented in the store include a browsing system that allows shoppers to use Android tablets instore to scan products for more information. Customers can then add the products to a wish list and send it to themselves. If they see something they want to buy, they can sit down at the Apple Macs in the back of the store and order it to be delivered.

Will more stores follow suit?

These examples show that the digital store concept can be applied in its own way to three entirely different shopping experiences, but will other stores follow in their footsteps?

Many stores have already adopted RFID technology for the purposes of inventory and stock management. For these retailers, turning their shops fully digital would not be too difficult. Clothes stores with RFID tags on their stock for security reasons, for example, could add AR-enabled mirrors that read the RFID tags to create a virtual fitting room.

Launching a digital store is also the natural step for online retailers looking to move onto the high street. As we’ve seen with Made.com, brands can seamlessly integrate their websites with a physical shopping space using various forms of smart technology.

For retailers that want to do it, there is very little standing in the way of making the switch from analogue to digital. Most of them are halfway there already. So it is more than likely that the digital store is very much the future of retail.