A Glimpse into the Future of Retail

What China's current high-tech retail landscape reveals about the future of North American shopping.

Are you a window shopper? Fussy with your purchases? Swayed by promotions? In China, many retailers will have you classified within milliseconds of you walking into their store thanks to advanced facial recognition software. The technology will also recommend specific products and styles to you based on your purchase history and appearance, allow you to try on an outfit virtually using smart AR-powered mirrors, and if your size isn’t in stock, have it delivered to your door the next day.

China has the world’s highest level of ecommerce penetration. Much more than a distribution channel, Alibaba (often dubbed the Amazon of China) provides incremental services from payment, logistics and merchandising to advertising and customer insights. But while online shopping is social, gamified  and mobile-driven, it’s also very much integrated with the offline shopping experience.

Here’s a snapshot from Alibaba of what it calls New Retail: a seamless blending of online and offline worlds that brings benefits to both retailers and consumers.

Hema, Alibaba’s chain of tech-powered supermarkets, provides an ultimate example of integrated retail.  Every item is barcoded; download the mobile app and use it to discover product details and to shop. The shopping experience is also rooted in the physical, providing unique hands-on experiences for consumers.  Hand pick your seafood and have it cooked right in front of you.  Take a look:

China’s tech-driven transformation is expected to expand to other countries; it’s just a matter of time. In an analysis based on a recent trip to Shanghai, AGF Investments recaps insights for retailers:

  • Instead of consumers searching for goods, goods will search for their consumers.
  • Retailers with the most data will generate the most consumer insights.
  • Concerns about surveillance are real.
  • Online shopping doesn’t replace the in-store experience; the opportunity comes when the two are seamlessly blended.
  • Consumers crave novelty and entertainment; brands that get this will thrive.

Are you ready for the future of retail? For more on the telling tales of China’s retail scene, check out:

CBC: Want to see the future of retail? Look to China

The Drum: Chinese retailer Suning showcases future of retail with five automated ‘smart retail’ stores

AGF Investments: The Future of Retail

And for insight on how North American retailers are leveraging offline retail opportunities, check out our recent blog post: Bricks and Mortar: the Human Connection.