Cutting-edge technologies which are changing the way we shop. Getting inspired by London Unilever Hackathon.

By September 2, 2016Uncategorized

When I heard about Re.Hack — thanks to Leanne and Melanie— it seemed to me a good excuse to fly to London.
Two days of hacking e-commerce around four briefs given by one of the main corporates worldwide — Unilever. With me 200 innovative minds, interesting speakers and judges, everyone in a great venue — Interchange in Camden. As often happens, the hackathon was a hub to meet interesting realms, to grow my network (mainly focusing on opportunities for Feat) and be inspired about a really interesting topic, shopping in this case.

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The way we think of retail is changing. Today, success means reaching consumers wherever they are, on whatever device they may be using. Increasingly, that means smartphones. And fundamental is the fact that digital doesn’t just drive e-commerce; it gets people in the store. The most sophisticated retailers are investing in ensuring their marketing strategies allow customers to convert on any channel. The reason? According to a 2015 study by IDC, these shoppers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel.
So how might technology change the way we shop? Here the main insights I got.
Blockchain technology.
The set of principles at the heart of blockchain have the potential to revolutionise the way we interact with companies, machines and each other. Trust is inbuilt and doesn’t need to be verified.
The essence is that whenever two network members transact, they announce their transaction to all network members (nodes), who record the transaction into a limited capacity block. Once the block is full, nodes simultaneously perform Proof-of-Work — mathematical operations that are hard to solve but whose correct solution is easy to verify. Verifying the validity of a block’s proof-of-work is far cheaper than solving it correctly. It is a technology of verification.
So here a possible scenario in the near future. I buy a fridge and a car. They have an ID and a chips inside to enable them to transact wirelessly over the web. Upon purchase, my device is recorded as being mine and this transaction is recorded on the blockchain. Now, I have multiple devices transacting upon my behalf. My fridge is ordering groceries from the supermarket; my car auto refuels as it self-drives the highways.
Each transaction is a micro-purchase around my wallet, which is not involving authentication of me but just of the device. And all of this is being transacted and recorded on the open blockchain ledger of my bank cheaply, easily and in real-time.
So, do I need money? No, all the transactions I make take place wirelessly around me, through my IoT.

VR and AR
The virtual reality revolution has already begun.
McDonald’s gave users headsets and transported them inside a Happy Meal box. Armed with a virtual paintbrush, they decorated the box, while surrounded by all the trappings of a Happy Meal.
Facebook 360, new technology powered by Oculus that allows users to navigate 360-degree videos with no headset required, has offered a VR gateway for many brands. NARS makeup for exemple, which is using Facebook 360 to offer customers a new way to try on makeup through their smartphones.
Meanwhile, fully immersive VR is already being used by brands. At Tommy Hilfiger and Dior, shoppers can watch 360-degree runway shows and even go behind-the-scenes with models.
Ultimately, these technologies come together to solve a fundamental challenge in e-commerce: integrating feeling — both physical and emotional — into the buying experience.
Taking about offline shopping, AR goes beyond VR in some key aspects, enabling users to integrate real and virtual scenes. We can try on products before we buy. An early examples was a popular app allowed shoppers to try on an Apple Watch (on their own wrist) using their smartphone as a kind of virtual mirror. The concept is basically the we find behind Pokemon Go.
It’s all matter of interact with a brand, and we know that interactivity leads to immersion, and that immersion leads to conversion.

Beacon technology.
Beacon technology is poised to change the way we interact with brands, making devices more helpful and revolutionizing the way retailers measure the offline impact of online activity. More than a million beacons are expected to be installed in U.S. retail stores this year alone. They are able to make shopping better by helping us get things done with our phone, such as scanning items to get reviews or splitting the bill for a table in a restaurant.
Let’s imagine a busy dad paying for parking through an app associated with the beacon in a parking meter. Imagine captains delivering video messages directly from the locker room to mobile devices in the stands, coaches texting fans vouchers for a free round of appetizers at partner restaurants after a big win.
Android devices only pull more than 40 billion queries for beacon-related content from Google services every year. So, immagine what it can became.

Personal assistant and Machine Learning.
While only 4.4 million Amazon Echos have been sold so far, a million of those devices were bought in Q1 2016 alone. It is 3 times faster to shop using microphone than to navigate menus in mobile apps. In five years time, digital personal assistants could be even more important than smartphones.
What I have right now on my smartphone is dozens of apps and each of those are doing it’s own thing. The personal assistants of the future will take care of that for me. Based on my eating history, for example, it could find me a restaurant that suits my taste that’s next to the movie theatre with the film I’ve been talking about seeing, then give the quickest route from my office or home.
Underlying the personal assistant revolution is machine learning, the artificial intelligence technique that powers Netflix’s movie recommendations, Amazon’s product recommendations, and Facebook’s ability to spot your friend’s face.
I can’t wait!