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The new face of retail: Tech trends to watch for in 2016

Brands and retailers are incorporating virtual reality devices in-store to empower customers to test-drive products or services on a new level.Rommel Canlas

Brands and retailers are incorporating virtual reality devices in-store to empower customers to test-drive products or services on a new level.

It’s 7 a.m. and you are jolted awake by your smart watch. You check your emails, the weather, know how well you slept via your fitness app tracker; you know what all your friends and acquaintances did last night and beyond without leaving the covers.You shower and as you walk out the door, you pre-order your breakfast at your nearest Starbucks for pick-up. You read the latest news on your iPad while on the train or bus and before you have even gotten to your desk, you have cleaned out your inbox, know all the latest sales from your favorite retailers, know the scores of your favorite sports teams, sent your next rent payment via Chase quick-pay, and pre-ordered dinner to be delivered to your doorstep for the night ahead.

As technology continues to evolve, it continues to empower us. As a result, we have become more conditioned to expecting information, options, access and speed at our fingertips.

And when it comes to retail and the way we shop, the expectations follow suit. The balance of power has officially shifted to well- informed, mobile advanced, socially-connected consumers and brands, and retailers are working hard to deliver.

From personalized events to contextualized shopping experiences to creation on demand via 3-D printing, to full immersion via virtual reality devices, retailers understand they need to delight with in-store experiences. They must deliver brand impressions that are impossible to ignore.

Here are some trends we will continue to see evolve in 2016:

A brand is a community

The active wear market is dominating when it comes to building a community around their brands and stores. Last fall, Athleta opened a free fitness studio at its Flatiron location.

Anyone can RSVP via the Mindbody app and register for one of the three classes offered daily.

In Hoboken, the Running Store has a Wednesday jogging group, where locals meet out in front of the shop each week and collectively embark on their 3K+ run.

Participants share their involvement on social channels giving the brands organic, earned marketing, and brands in turn gain loyal customers who value their brand beyond the products they sell, but also for the community they have created.

The “Internet of Me” Store Environment via The Internet of Things Movement

Retailers are slowly evolving from fearing smartphone-toting shoppers who “showroom” (i.e. browse products in-store and then purchase online, often from competitors) to exploring new ways to connect with them to enhance the in-store experience.

They are incorporating beacon technology to create an “aware” store environment that can talk to customers in a personalized way based on past behaviors, purchases and exclusive deals.

By listening to what customers do online and in-store, brands can deliver an intimate shopping experience.

Retailers are exploring new ways to connect with smartphone-toting shoppers to enhance the in-store experience.Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Retailers are exploring new ways to connect with smartphone-toting shoppers to enhance the in-store experience.

Customers who opt-in can benefit from the digital trail they leave by doing everything via their mobile device.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

In laymen’s terms: Augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something, while virtual reality truly immerses and transports one into an artificial world being viewed through a device.

Brands and retailers that are incorporating virtual reality devices in-store are empowering customers to test-drive products or services on a new level via technology.

They are transporting them via a sensorial experience where they can see and hear how they may interact with a product. They are creating a deeper emotional connection to understand how a product or service fits into their life.

The travel and automotive industries are leading the pact in this initiative, creating virtual escapes to remote islands or a test drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in their soon-to-be convertible.

3D Printing

Still in its infancy stage, 3D printing is changing the game in retail for on-demand inventory replenishment and customized product creation. Customers are able to create custom toys, jewelry, games, home decorations and beyond.

Stroll down W. 22nd St. in Manhattan and visit the Normal store, where customized earphones can be printed on demand to fit the shape of your inner ear.

As machines continue to get faster and robust innovations enable machines to handle varied types of fabrics, the possibilities can become endless for in-time inventory and sustainable resources.

The exciting part about all this is…the year has just begun and it’s all still evolving.

Melissa Gonzalez, a former Wall Street executive, is the founder of The Lion’esque Group, a firm of pop-up shop experts who have produced more than 100 retail experiences in New York City, Los Angeles, and the Hamptons for many major brands. Melissa is the author of “The Pop-Up Paradigm: How Brands Can Build Human Connections in a Digital Age.”

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Lifestyle – NY Daily News

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