Shopping online continues to experience dramatic growth, with US consumers shelling out well over $200 billion in 2012 – and that number is projected to reach $327 billion by 2016 according to Forrester Research. However, when it comes to providing an experience that can match brick-and-mortar retailers, shopping on the Internet still has some way to go. On the other hand, online retailing has a number of key advantages over shopping in person, such as the ability to find products with a few mouse clicks, and the sheer variety of goods that are offered by companies such as Amazon. How are online retailers going to continue to capitalize on these advantages, while closing the gap with shopping in person?
One of the biggest online shopping sectors is clothing, and yet many people are wary of buying clothes online – so far, there has been no substitute for looking at yourself in a changing room mirror. However, this may be about to change. For example, Zugara has a platform that lets retailers set up virtual dressing rooms, using technologies that include a webcam-based motion capture system and augmented reality. Shoppers can try on virtual clothes using their browser or tablet, and can even change the color or style simply by making a gesture. Nor is Zugara alone. Adidas is pushing hard with their BodyKinectizer body scanner and CyberFit interactive fitting room. This is similar to Zugara’s solution, but uses a Microsoft Kinect device for motion capture. Also, Adidas is targeting both home and in-store shoppers, unlike Zugara, which is primarily targeting the online consumer.
Using augmented reality to help shoppers visualize their purchase is not limited to apparel. For example, Augment, a startup based in Paris, is now working with online retailers to create apps that let customers see how products would look in their homes. Using Augment’s technology, shoppers can superimpose a three-dimensional image of a product over a real time video feed, using the camera on their smartphone or tablet. They are able to move products such as tables and chairs around in the room, and can even rotate them so that they fit into place.
Social media is also playing an increasing role in online retailing, but to date there have been no well-designed platforms for making payments. Instead, potential customers are required to leave the social media environment in order to make purchases, rather than being able to do this “in stream.” For Internet-savvy customers, who are used to being able to pay online easily with credit cards, Amazon Payments or PayPal, it is difficult to understand why making purchases in a social media environment such as Twitter or Facebook is so difficult.
Enter Chirpify. With this platform, users are able to set up an account, including things such as preferred payment methods. Once they have done this, they can make purchases directly within the social media environment – this can be as simple as sending a tweet with an appropriate hashtag and payment amount. The message is intercepted by the Chirpify platform, which then processes the payment in the background. A number of well-known brands have already run campaigns using the platform, including Taco Bell and Puma.
Brick-and-mortar stores are also trying to take advantage of their physical premises by using multichannel retailing to seamlessly combine their online and offline presence. A number of innovative startups are actively developing and deploying technology that helps retailers to make this a reality.
Apps such as ShopSavvy allow consumers to scan a barcode in store, and then locate the best deal in their area for that particular item. However, while this may be a boon to shoppers, it does little or nothing for the retailer. On the other hand, companies such as Jifiti are focused on creating technology that benefits retailers directly. Using Jifiti’s app, shoppers can scan the barcode of the items that they would like to give as a gift to a friend or family member. A redemption code is then sent to the recipient, who can use this to claim the gift on the retailer’s website.
While the person giving a gift using Jifiti may miss out on seeing it unwrapped, this approach has significant value for the retailer. This is because the recipient is able to customize their gift before they finalize the order – for example, if they have been sent a sweater, then they can change the color or size, or even the style. For the retailer, this means that they are much less likely to have to process returns and exchanges, which has significant financial benefits. And, for the person giving the gift, they are able to show a personal touch, rather than giving a generic gift card.