The Future of Retail – Deep Retail and Culture Clubs

Consumers are creating the future of retail driven by the need for greater convenience and bang for their buck value and chasing aspects such as excitement, meaning, status, relevance, authenticity, social connection and more.

It leads to major change and upheaval in short spaces of time: The demise of Toys R Us. Alibaba’s record USD 25 billion Singles Day.’s pledge to open 1,000 physical stores a day and Amazon delivering to boot of your vehicle. Trendwatching identified a number of fast emerging trends in retail. I am placing their report on the Future of Retail with full recognition of the publisher.


Consumers now expect to summon retail brands as they would a genie from a lamp. Three words: mobile, mobile, mobile. The impact of mobile-empowered consumers is still playing out. Better m-commerce stores, better direct-to-consumer apps (Nike’s SNKRS is the poster child) and the admittedly later than expected arrival of meaningful AR experiences are all reframing expectations when it comes to how, where and when customers can engage with a brand. In 2018, consumers expect to summon retail experiences as they would a genie from a lamp, called forth from a smartphone, personal assistant, smart speaker, or even from the physical environment itself. That means summoning an on-demand MAGIC POINT OF SALE that allows them to engage with your brand, browse products, test and purchase in innovative new ways.

  • POINT & KNOW. Yep, this trend has its roots in another that we’ve been tracking since forever. Now that bolt-on visual search capability – see Amazon Rekognition from AWS – is available to retail brands large and small, the promise of a totally shoppable physical environment is finally being realized.
  • iOS 11 was the biggest thing to happen to AR ever. We’re at the beginning of a long phase of AR innovation that will prove revolutionary for retail and drive the emergence of a million geotagged MAGIC POINTS OF SALE.
  • Context is everything. Expectations of instant personalization and total relevance are still climbing. One glimpse? People are even changing the way they search on Google: there has been a 60% growth in mobile searches for ‘__ for me’ and 80% growth in mobile searches for ‘__ should I __’ in the past two years (Google, January 2018). The inevitable next step? Retail brands that go beyond simply knowing the consumer, and start reaching out and serving them in the physical context they happen to be in at that moment. The talk is about empowered shoppers who want you to leverage new channels, technologies and platforms to be in the right place at the right time. This has significant implications.


  • ikea + grokstyle — App combines visual search and AR product previews: IKEA Place is a mobile app that lets shoppers plant and view digitally rendered products in their own homes. As of March 2018, the app was updated to include visual search so that users can point their cameras at household items (in person or in a catalogue) and search for similar products. The visual search feature is powered by San-Francisco-based GrokStyle.
  • alibaba + intime — Shopping mall’s AR mirrors let visitors try on beauty products.
    February 2018 saw Alibaba partner with Chinese shopping mall InTime to launch an augmented reality restroom mirror. Via the mirror, customers can virtually test make-up looks and, if they like the products, can make purchases at an adjacent vending machine using a QR code link on their phone. The vending machine includes cosmetics brands such as Benefit, Lancôme and Shu Uemura.
  • nike snkrs — AR and geolocation harnessed for limited shoe drops: In 2017, Nike added AR to the brand’s SNKRS app and integrated it into shoe drops. Shoppers who wanted to purchase Nike’s SB Dunk High Pro Momofuku shoes needed to find a copy of the menu for New York restaurant Fuku. Once the menu was located, SNKRS overlaid an interactive 3D model of the shoes and users could purchase. A February 2018 drop of a Kendrick Lamar collaboration was only available at an LA location, where some app users unlocked VIP tickets to Lamar’s show.
  • wechat — Access relevant digital services without downloading apps: In January 2018, WeChat celebrated one year since the launch of its mini programs: digital services that, unlike apps, don’t need to be downloaded. WeChat users can discover nearby mini programs, from local restaurants to bike-share platforms, and are prompted with program features relevant to their searches. For example, searching for ‘taxi’ provides the option to book a car via a third-party mini-program within the search results. 580,000 mini-programs were launched in the first year.

There will be numerous retail brands delivering an AR-fueled MAGICAL POINT OF SALE (M-POS) in the coming months. While mobile, AR and M-POS are intimately linked, mobile is not the only channel via which an M-POS can be delivered. See how Alibaba and InTime transformed the shopping mall restroom into an interactive point of sale. Nike proved that an M-POS can deliver an immersive, entertaining experience in its own right. As expectations grow that m-commerce be not simply easy but also entertaining, a deep understanding of your customer’s culture combined with well-orchestrated gamification can go a long way to help you stand out. Omnipresent, efficient and delightful. It isn’t easy to make magic happen.


In 2019, smart retailers know their customers better than customers know themselves. In the retail universe of 2018, data is gravity. It’s the fundamental force that draws retailers and consumers together. Its presence or absence shapes pretty much everything. For years now every customer with a smartphone has been a human data source, endlessly spinning off the GPS information, Likes, searches, purchases, views and more that allow retailers to know them better. But now that journey is reaching a definitive inflection point when it comes to retail. In 2018, consumers will expect retail brands to put new forms of data to work – think emotional data, eye tracking, DNA and more – to offer personalization that proves they know customers better than customers know themselves.

Primed and Ready. This is about a personalization and targeting journey that began in way simpler times, back when ‘customers who bought 1984 also bought Brave New World’ was a revolution. We all know where a part of that journey has taken us. To the kind of data-driven behavioral targeting that is seeing food brand Knorr offer personalized recipes based on a consumer’s Instagram feed. (Oh, and to an existential crisis for democracy, obvs.) Now, DEEP RETAIL personalization is the next step. Deep State: This shift is being driven by the maturing of a raft of technologies that mean access to new and more powerful forms of personal data. The cost of sequencing an entire human genome has fallen below USD 1,000. Face recognition is now how people use their iPhone. No wonder Walmart filed a patent for tech that will detect the emotional state of shoppers as they walk around the store.

Me Me Me. Yes there are widespread privacy concerns. But never discount consumers’ ability to want two things at once: expectations of data-driven personal relevance are only accelerating. A staggering 54% of consumers expect to receive a personalized discount within 24 hours of making themselves known to a brand, and 71% express frustration at impersonal shopping experiences (Segment, October 2017). How to sum all this up? In 2018, retailers must make the leap from customer experience (CX) to intimate experience (IX). Ready?


  • são paulo metro — Live mood data used to personalize ads: April 2018 saw interactive platform doors installed on Line 4 of the São Paulo metro. The doors feature a sensor that can detect the number of passengers in front of them as well as detecting facial expressions to estimate each commuter’s age, gender, and mood. Using this information, targeted personalized advertisements can be played to commuters. The doors are also used for public service announcements. Line 4 is privately operated by ViaQuatro, the interactive doors were initially installed at Luz, Paulista, and Pinheiros stations.
  • ebay & saatchi gallery — Brainwaves tracked in shopping experiment: October 2017 saw the launch of eBay’s experimental shopping experience The Art of Shopping. A joint enterprise with London’s Saatchi Art, the initiative saw selected guests wear brainwave monitors while they browsed galleries featuring specially chosen artworks. Their brainwave response to each piece of art was measured, and participants received a personalized report and a digital shopping cart containing items based on their subconscious preferences.
  • starttoday and stretchsense — Sensor-suit ensures perfect fit for online purchases: Japanese fashion retailer Start Today, along with New Zealand-based company StretchSense have created the ZozoSuit: a garment ensuring that apparel purchased online fits customers correctly. ZozoSuit is embedded with 150 sensors, which collect 15,000 body measurements. The garment connects to a mobile app that shoppers can use to order custom-fit clothing. ZozoSuit is free for US buyers, shipping in Q2 2018.
  • looxidlabs — VR headset measures and tracks shoppers’ emotions: LooxidVR is a VR headset that measures and tracks shoppers’ emotions. Developed by California-based Looxid Labs, the headset is equipped with six EEG sensors and two eye-tracking cameras, and can measure the wearer’s brain activity, eye movement, and pupil dilation when watching VR content (virtual store fronts, for example). The device then uses AI to turn the data into useful insights for retailers. Available to pre-order from February 2018, LooxidVR won a CES Best of Innovation Award in January 2018.

At heart, DEEP RETAIL is simply about the next – and inevitable – evolution of the long personalization story we’ve all been tracking for so long. Not asking consumers what they want, or getting them to co-create with you, but discerning their deepest preferences via new forms of data.
In the months ahead millions of consumers will come into contact with this next-stage personalization, and that won’t be only via the retail industry: just see Air New Zealand using emotional data to make personalized holiday recommendations to travelers.


Consumers will demand retail brands do more to promote the flourishing of their own staff. This trend has its roots in a single, powerful and – for brands – often terrifying force: transparency. But turn transparency to your advantage, and instead of being terrifying it becomes deeply empowering. Let’s get down to it.

Last year we highlighted this: your internal culture is ever-more visible, and that means it’s an ever-more important part of your public-facing brand. That’s an epic, transparency-fueled shift sweeping across the entire business arena, and the consequences will play out for years. But one way in which that trend has become acute for retail brands? It’s all about people. In 2018, consumers will seek out, engage with and recommend retail brands that build better internal cultures for their own people. That means building CULTURE CLUBS that find new and innovative ways to protect, reward and promote the flourishing of all kinds of staff. This trend taps into a deep and ever-more pressing choice for any retail brand in 2018.

  • BAD REP. The retail industry is synonymous with underpaid, overworked, high turnover workers (it almost feels unfair to single out Amazon and Walmart, but hey, we just did). No wonder employee turnover in the retail industry is 5% per month according to Bloomberg. In a transparent environment, the way retail brands treat their people will become an increasingly important part of the way consumers perceive them as a brand.
  • CHECK MY ETHICS. We hear what you’re thinking: yes, plenty of consumers will continue to prioritise low cost over everything else, including worker welfare. But we are in an environment in which rising numbers of consumers see ethical choices as a key status play: ‘I am more ethical, I am more enlightened than the rest’.
  • LOYALTY PLAY. In an age of rising and ubiquitous retail automation, one way to stand out? Go the other way and cultivate a high-touch, experiential offering that’s all about human contact, creativity and expertize. The first step if you want to do that? Create a CULTURE CLUB that induces your key staff to stay with you, and so allows customers to form deep, loyal relationships with individual staff members.


  • taco bell — Fast food chain funds employees’ education costs: US fast food chain Taco Bell announced a partnership with Guild Education that allows employees to study during their employment. The March 2018 announcement followed a a six-month trial of the program, and offers each of its 210,000 workers USD 5,250 per academic year for tuition, along with access to a personal college adviser. The money is paid at the start of each academic term.
  • walmart — US retailer announces package of benefits for staff: January 2018 saw Walmart announce plans to increase the minimum wage of US employees to USD 11. The retailer also announced improved parental leave benefits, a new bonus scheme and a benefit fund to aid employees with adoption costs. According to Walmart, the wage and benefit changes will impact more than 1 million employees.
  • magazine luiza — Retailer supports female staff to report domestic violence: In August 2017, Brazilian retail chain Magazine Luiza unveiled a free telephone line enabling people to anonymously denounce cases of domestic violence or violence against women. The service was launched after an employee was murdered by her husband. The free phone line also offers support to staff who are victims of violence, helping them to report their case to the police.
  • best buy — Employees get married in store: January 2018 saw two Best Buy allow two employees to get married in the warehouse of the store where they both work in Muncie, Indiana. The couple, who met at work, asked permission to host the ceremony at the store after other options proved too costly. Colleagues made the space wedding-friendly by hanging sheets over stocked shelves and placing lights around the venue. Around 20 people attended, including other employees who timed their breaks to attend.

Build cultures that allow staff to flourish is the right thing to do. This trend is also about making a choice when it comes to the dichotomy facing any retail brand in 2018. Automation, speed, convenience and low prices? Or human creativity, curation, expertize and relationships? Which field are you going to compete on? Building a true culture of flourishing means taking decisions that run deep and make real change. But as the Best Buy example above illustrates, a simple gesture can speak volumes about the kind of culture you are trying to create. As consumers become ever-more concerned about the social impacts of automation, they’ll start to demand that the automation-minded brands are taking steps to help staff flourish once they’ve left. Cue news of the Amazon Career Choice initiative, which is seeing Amazon pay up to USD 12,000 for staff on hourly wages to study for new jobs in in-demand professions such as healthcare and I.T.


From discovery to delivery, retail brands are automating the customer journey. In 2018 shoppers are outsourcing a whole host of retail experiences to algorithms, automation and smart devices: that means the automation of hunting, negotiating, purchasing, delivery arrangements and more. Consumers are concerned about automation-fueled unemployment. But never underestimate the human ability to feel multiple and contradictory things at the same time! Many of the same consumers worried about job displacement are already hunting out brands that harness automation to make their lives better.

  • Outsourced Life. This trend is driven by a newly emerging but deep consumer expectation. That is, that you can outsource decision-making to brands and trust them to deliver on your unique needs. That expectation has burrowed deep into the consumer psyche via a host of ‘we do the thinking for you’ subscription services: think razors, cars, music, food, and more. The subscription e-commerce market in the US has grown over 100% a year over the past 5 years (McKinsey & Company, February 2018).
  • AI hype cycle. Google Duplex will soon be booking haircuts for users around the globe. No wonder expectations of AI-fueled outsourcing – ‘find me the right product, negotiate the best deal, book my next appointment!’ – are escalating.
  • Emergent properties. Consumers can see a whole host of technologies are maturing: face recognition, voice recognition, image recognition. Taken together, these technologies make new forms of A-COMMERCE possible. And what’s possible will soon be expected. A full 80% of Chinese prosumers look forward to automatic refrigerator refills (Havas, December 2017).


  • revolut — Geolocation used to auto-enroll travel insurance: UK-based digital banking company Revolut introduced an automated travel insurance app in January 2018. The app automatically initiates travel insurance when it detects that the user is in a different country, and will automatically update as users move between countries. Users pay per day, and a grace period allows cancellation of the cover if it is not required. A cap ensures users don’t pay more than the annual fee of GBP 30.
  • freda — Tampons auto-ordered by AI: Beta-launched in the UK in January 2018, Freda is an AI-powered organic tampon delivery service. Using an algorithm similar to that used by fertility apps, deliveries are synced to the user’s monthly cycle and tampons are ordered to ensure they arrive a few days before they will be needed. A monthly delivery of tampons costs GBP 6.99.
  • dosh — App auto-applies cashback on purchases: US-based Dosh allows customers to receive cashback on purchases by simply snapping a picture of their credit card within the app. They then use the card as usual and cashback schemes and coupons are automatically redeemed. Money is deposited into a Dosh account and can be transferred via PayPal. Dosh has partnerships with over 100,000 brands including Target to Forever 21, and as of April 2018 had driven over USD 25 million in cash back to users.
  • imagr — Shopping cart recognizes goods and automates checkout: A system that recognizes products as soon as they are placed inside shopping carts and baskets is being trialed in New Zealand in Q1 2018. The Smartcart technology has been created by New Zealand-based artificial intelligence company Imagr, and eliminates the need for barcode scanning, checkouts and wait lines. The system is being piloted at a Four Square store in the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie.

At the core is a simple principle: harness customer context (in this case location) to automate a purchasing process and so save the customer time. So one simple question to get started on this trend: what customer contexts could you harness in order to automate part of the process of engaging with and buying from you? But every one of the featured examples here is a signal of where consumer expectations are heading. And you don’t need to use technology to meet the expectation at the heart of this trend (though of course technology will probably be needed to deliver a solution at scale). Your flesh and blood staff could always be better at recognizing when and where – even when they are out of store – a shopper might need advice or want one of your products. Rising numbers of consumers will feel comfortable outsourcing much of their retail to AIs and smart assistants, leaving those virtual entities to find the best products, prices and experiences.


Inclusive marketing is no longer enough. Time to reimagine everything you do around true diversity. Smirnoff’s long-running ‘We’re Open’ campaign. Bancolombia’s same-sex insurance ad. MGM Resorts creating a playlist to celebrate LGBTQ people. Inclusivity is everywhere. Show us a progressive brand that hasn’t put a plus-size model on a billboard? Of course, that’s 100% a change for the better. It’s just not enough. In 2018 consumers will no longer be impressed by brands that only point towards diversity in their campaigns and messaging. Instead, consumers will demand that brands reimagine their offerings around the wants and needs of a truly diverse set of customers. That means products, services, physical spaces, and engagement processes that cater to everyone, including traditionally marginalized groups.

  • POST-DEMOGRAPHICS. Yes, this taps into a mega-trend we’ve been talking about for a long time: the rise of a POST-DEMOGRAPHIC world. A world in which many consumers are more free than ever before to construct, inhabit – and in many cases – celebrate the identities of their choosing, not ones determined for them by their age, gender, location, income and more.
  • PRIVILEGE CHECKS. A connected world has given traditionally marginalized groups new ways to come together and demand action for change: see #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and more. Now, rising numbers are demanding that brands finally give them the recognition and service they deserve.
  • SPENDING SHIFT. The POST-DEMOGRAPHIC liberation of older people from traditional expectations means many are spending on all kinds of new, non-traditional and unexpected products and services. Time for the business to catch up! According to research, 86% of marketers overestimate how much consumers under the age of 35 spend, whilst 72% underestimate how much consumers 55 and older spend (Age of Majority, October 2017).


  • taobao — Ecommerce site develops an app for elderly shoppers: January 2018 saw Taobao, the ecommerce site owned by Alibaba, launch an app aimed at China’s aging population. The app has the usual key functions, including access to the Tmall Supermarket, live-streaming programs and shopping recommendations. According to Alibaba’s research, 30 million Taobao users are aged over 50, and nearly 20% of them are aged between 60 and 69. Elderly users can also use the app to communicate with family members via a click and chat option.
  • asos — Etailer uses AR to show outfits on different body types: April 2018 saw ASOS test a feature showing how the same outfit looks on people of different body types and sizes. The initiative uses AR technology to automate the process. The feature is the UK-based fashion etailer’s latest effort around positive body image and inclusive fashion, and follows its pledge to stop airbrushing photos of models.
  • costa coffee — Coffee chain giant tackles adult loneliness: In May 2018 UK café chain Costa Coffee partnered with The Chatty Cafe Scheme to launch ‘chatter and natter’ tables at 25 outlets across the country. A sign on each of the tables indicates that customers sitting there are happy to chat. The aim is to provide a safe space for café-goers – particularly those struggling with loneliness – to strike up a conversation with a stranger.
  • nba — New flagship is the world’s first sensory-inclusive retail store: Celebrating World Autism Awareness Day, April 2018 saw the NBA‘s flagship store reopen as the first sensory-inclusive retail location in the world. The NBA worked with nonprofit KultureCity to make the store accessible for shoppers sensitive to regular retail environments. Bags with noise-canceling headphones are available, as well as weighted lap bands and fidget spinners, and staff received training on how to interact with and help shoppers with conditions such as autism, PTSD or dementia.
  • emirates nbd — Initiatives make banking easier for individuals with disabilities: March 2018 saw Emirates NBD unveil a series of initiatives to help individuals with special needs use self-service banking facilities in branches across Dubai. Part of the bank’s #TogetherLimitless campaign, the initiatives included a Braille-enabled account opening service, which converts application information into English or Arabic Braille. Branch managers also received American Sign Language training. Emirates NBD also trialled a hearing loop service in the Jumeirah branch.

We’re always talking about how great innovation starts with one question: how can we give people something of value? That means serving fundamental human needs and wants. But for too long now we – business, society, all of us – have overlooked marginalized groups when we come to think about those human needs and wants. What about the needs of older consumers? What about those with disabilities? We could go on. Making a change and applying some PRACTICAL POST-DEMOGRAPHICS is the way to put that right. And to offer something of value to many – maybe even millions more – people. Sure, technology can help: think about the ASOS AR-fueled app that shows outfits on different body types. But as the Costa Coffee Chatty Cafes example proves, making a positive change can be as simple as putting a sign on a table. Go out and ask as wide a range of people as possible – including those you’ve overlooked in the past – how it feels to engage with you and how it could be better.

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