Everyone knows technology has been playing an increasing role in the retail industry over the past few years, helping the industry with everything from enriching the customer experience and getting shoppers in the door to entertaining them once they’re in and helping them to share their experience with others.

Clare Andrew Shoppertainment

Shopping centres are having to constantly evolve to meet consumer needs and emerging trends and understand the need to diversify as much as they can to stay ahead of the game, as this is where centres will generate their own USPs and gain consumer loyalty.

Likewise there’s no denying virtual reality (VR) was the breakout star of 2017. It was everywhere, with companies such as North Face using it in their stores to transport customers to Yosemite National Park. Some of the shopping centres we work with have had some great VR events such as a Football VR event we hosted this summer as part of the World Cup celebrations at a centre in London.

However, looking forward, I believe 2019 belongs to augmented reality (AR).

AR’s popularity is on the rise, mostly because it doesn’t require customers to use additional hardware such as headsets. In my view, AR is a key investment tool that the retail sector needs to be adopting. Taking advantage of the fact that practically everyone has a smartphone, AR means we can really disrupt a shopper’s experience.

Dulux has capitalised on this through its Visualizer app, which allows users to take a photo of a room and see how different colours of paint would look on the walls, effectively allowing them to try out the products before they buy them.

Kate Spade has also done something similar in conjunction with the opening of its first bricks-and-mortar store in Paris. The app took users on a virtual walking tour of the city and increased awareness of the physical location of the new shop.

Kate Spade Augmented Reality

Kate Spade has developed a unique Augmented Reality app for its Paris store

Source: Kate Spade

Some centres are taking it beyond AR or VR. One trend we’re seeing emerge is geo-fencing, which uses location technology and allows shopping centres to create designated zones in order to help provide a customised experience for its shoppers.

When a centre uses geo-fencing, any shopper who enters one of the predetermined zones will receive notifications relating to that zone straight to their phone. Entered the food court? Here’s a discount code for some of the restaurants. In the car park? Why not pay for your parking through your phone. The possibilities are endless and they allow centres to create a unique experience tailored to each customer’s needs, drastically enriching individual experiences.

“Technology has forever changed the way people shop and it’s a market that is only going to continue to evolve”

At the furthest extreme of the trend are shops such as Amazon Go. Customers use an app to enter the store, pick up what they want and just walk out. The app tracks everything the customer has picked up off the shelves and after a little while sends them a notification with their receipt while charging their Amazon account. Amazon has announced they are seeking 200 sites in the UK to launch Amazon Go globally, so it would seem this concept is here to stay.

For retail landlords, embracing tech can provide multiple benefits, from increasing footfall and dwell time to helping tenants to make their business more sustainable and therefore provide stronger rental returns.

Whether it’s as simple as offering contactless payments or an AR app, technology has forever changed the way people shop and it’s a market that is only going to continue to evolve. Shopping centres have seemingly been ahead of the trend, already embracing new technologies and finding ways to make it work for them, whether that is in the store itself or through events. I wonder what will 2020 bring.

Clare Andrew is managing director of Shoppertainment Management