Bringing The Store To The Customer... No, Really

The concept of the mobilized store is, of course, commonplace. Virtualizing and untethering the retail experience is the block and tackling of mobile retail. And yet, as we all know, putting a retail brand into that limitless ether of choices is also an invitation for the store to disappear and have less of a presence than the anchored brick-and-mortar experience. Several ideas at SXSW (highlighted by the IPG Media Lab) seemed to be about bridging the gap between virtual and tangible store experiences with physical world projects that come to the customer to prompt them into the mobile world.

Tried in Korea, the E-Mart brand tried to break into Koreans’ notoriously habitual shopping brand choices in a unique way. They brought balloon-laden WiFi hotspots to places where people already shopped and offered them the opportunity to connect via their phones and get discount coupons for the physical stores and make purchases from E-Mart right on their phones. The company claims it saw sales climb online and off 9%. Mobile sales were up 157% after 50,000 more people downloaded the app during the first month.

The idea is brilliant in essentially extending the physical presence of the retail locations anywhere. More compelling than a simple piece of signage, the balloon/routers give prompt, mechanism and incentive to shop with the retail brand then and there. It is also a devious poaching method, potentially turning any street corner into the sort of contested ground you see among street vendors, sandwich board walkers, and newspaper boys.

It is a reminder of how compelling the physical prompt is when it can entertain, engage and even pique curiosity.

In a similar vein, UK retailer of just about everything Tesco (what don’t these guys sell?) is bringing an interactive wall of goods to public spaces like airports that let people shop for groceries. The idea in this iteration is that travelers can order what they need upon their return and have it delivered at the right time to meet them. You use your smartphone to scan a code for the item and make the order.

It is an interesting model because the wall could be used to contextualize the offers. In an airport the staples can be highlighted because those are the perishables that people most need when returning from a trip. So the retailer can segment their stores and target their inventory to places in the physical world where they make the most sense. The store doesn’t only come to you. It comes curated according to your current circumstance. In fact, one can imagine Tesco working in tandem with its manufacturer partners to double team a consumer in a given space. Brands can’t fulfill the desire the outdoor advertising inspires, but a nearby Tesco remote store can. Imagine a new way of conceiving outdoor value. Instead of end caps in-store, we start thinking about the relative value of outdoor real estate in relation to remote retail?  

This remote iteration of a store was another way the store comes to the user, but in a more tangible way than just having it accessible everywhere. Mobility makes everywhere anywhere for all players all at once. But virtual space is cluttered in a way that the physical space can help clarify.   

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