Nothing hints at the rise of connected retail quite like the wave of online brands establishing a presence offline. Last month, Amazon decried its pureplay origins by announcing plans to open a bricks-and-mortar outlet in Midtown Manhattan – although the warehouse, which offers limited inventory and facilitates pickup for online orders, is largely perceived as a branding exercise, it’s also sure to spell serious gains for customer data. And eBay is about to make its biggest move into the brick-and-mortar world yet. The online auction giant has joined forces with designer Rebecca Minkoff to roll out a series of smart stores that bridge the gap between digital and traditional retail in San Francisco and New York.
In a November 2014 interview with Fast Company, Steve Yankovich, Head of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay said that the stores – which feature digital mirrors that invite customers to browse matching accessories on an oversized touchscreen and receive texts when the item is ready to try on – aims to “change what retail is like.” They’re also fitted with cameras that track customers in an attempt to better understand shopper behaviour as well as technology that let staff draw on purchasing history to offer a human alternatives to online recommendation engines.
“If there is a Minkoff customer, a devotee of the brand who is a fan of their styles, their CRM data is collected,” Yankovich said. “People still want to use their five senses, not just the one sense you use when you’re doing e-commerce. So physical retail, a showroom, I think will never go away.”
eBay’s smart store strategy echoes findings from Connected and Curated – Long Live the Store, a recent publication produced by PwC. The report, which is based on interviews with 1,000 Australian consumers, found that 68% of still believe that the physical store is central to the shopping process. It also revealed that 37 percent of Australian consumers believe that the inability to ‘touch and feel a product’ is the biggest issue with online shopping – proof that the reign of physical retail is not just over yet.