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The future of retail?

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This week’s Reply Xchange event in London showcased some insanely interesting visions of the (near) future of converged, multi-channel retailing, bringing together all platforms – including stores, payments and traditional advertising – to offer a seamless and, I have to say, eye-opening vision of how mobile can really glue together retail.

The company’s concept of ‘mixed reality’ finally offers a vision of how augmented reality can actually be put to interesting and practical use letting users create their own avatar – complete with body shape, size, colour and even hair style (well, approximately) so that you can then start to try on clothes that you see in store or online – as well as advertised in magazines and even on tube trains and bus stops.

Using watermarking – hidden signs within images – the AR technology that underpins the service lets you import an avatar of the item or outfit in the image and puts it on your own avatar. You can then store these in your ‘wardrobe’ in the cloud to look at later, share socially with your friends, or even ‘try on’ images of the clothes super-imposed on your actual body if you have an Xbox360 motion detection cam and the software on your smart TV.

Of course you can buy these things online from your wardrobe, or you can then go get them in store and Reply has also developed a simple mobile payment tool that requires a card to be registered once and then the shopping app – branded typically to the store, but could also work for banks – can be used to pay simply by scanning a QR code.

But what makes this significant in my mind is that it not only puts mobile at its centre as the device that consumers use to engage and buy from retailers, but also seeks to bring together in a coherent form all the disciplines of multi-channel retail into one single service. It seeks to capitalise on how consumers now travel on the ‘retail journey’ across multiple platforms over a span of time.

It is also significant, I believe, because it also offers a real fillip to advertising in print media, on TV and on the web. It starts to make product placement, advertising, second screening something that actually can deliver people directly into the sales funnel.

Take the example of second screening. While watching an ad on TV and thinking “what would those shoes look like on me” you can scan onto your device, and actually see them on there. You can then show your friends and buy them, or head to a store.

It is, of course in its very early stages, but it does demonstrate a significant understanding on Reply’s part of how the multichannel shopper thinks and offers retailers a away of really delivering an engaging multichannel experience. I look forward to seeing this roll out across Europe.

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