Reinventing window-shopping in a digital age

Posted by Flux on 

5 November 2013


It’s that time of year when two distinct shopping tribes emerge: those who are going to flock to the malls for their Christmas shopping, and those who are going to avoid them at all costs. The avoiders (and I count myself in this group) are not only crowd phobic, but more importantly hyper allergic to the fabricated festive cheer that engulfs shopping malls at this time of year. For me, it’s not so much the garish decorations and fake snow that offends, but rather the soundtrack that malls feel they have to bombard the shoppers with: an incessant loop of Christmas carols, with a track or two of Boney-M thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, that brings out a Scrooge-like reaction in many people.

However, for the “bah humbug” shoppers there is light at the end of the tunnel – or rather a touch screen. Online shopping is evolving at an incredible rate, and while retailers started out looking at the online vs offline shopping experience as two separate entities, it is becoming very clear that it is going to be a hybrid of the two shopping experiences that is the new emerging trend.

Online shopping will continue to grow, and increasingly it will service the shopper looking for convenience: ie – replenishing non-perishable groceries, and buying items like home ware, gifts and books. In a country like South Africa, where clothing sizes are not uniform, and where shoppers still like the social as well as tactile element of shopping, the bricks and mortar experience is here to stay. However, the loss of foot traffic, and therefore sales, from online shopping has already started to affect the bottom line for many retailers. They not only have to up their game in terms of providing a “retail theatre” experience, but also keep a close watch on a new retail trend: the touch screen shoppable window.

UK supermarket chain, Tesco, was the first retailer to explore the concept of taking the store to the customer. They allowed customers in South Korea to do their grocery shopping, using QR codes, whilst waiting on subway station platforms. Since then, this concept has not only spread across the globe, but it has also evolved, revolutionising the shopping experience for customers, but at the same time giving traditional retailers sleepless nights.

eBay is taking the lead in this e-tailing journey. A few months back they launched a series of “shoppable windows” in New York. The concept was simple but revolutionary. They set up giant touch screens in the windows of vacant shops. These screens allowed passers-by to stop and browse through an online catalogue (their first collaboration was with fashion brand Kate Spade), and if they found an item they liked and wanted, they could buy it immediately using an on-screen QR code and the online payment portal, PayPal. The biggest novelty factor in this shopping experience was not so much the fun of touch-screen shopping, but eBay’s promise that any purchase would be delivered to an address of your choosing within the hour. Having to actually carry shopping bags is soon going to be “so 2010”.

When I explained the concept to someone recently, they asked, “What’s the point of shoppable windows, when you can just buy online?” The answer is two-fold: immediacy and social interaction.
Shoppable windows bridge the gap between the solitary nature of online shopping with the enjoyment of shopping with someone, in a public space. It also speaks to the impulsive shopper (which is why so many people actually enjoy shopping) but then goes one step further and provides the convenience of not having to carry the package around with you.

For the shopper, this is truly a revolutionary digital, retail experience. For brands, this concept opens up a whole new world of possibilities because what shoppable windows (as well as online shopping portals) provide is the luxury of presenting your full stock offering digitally, without having to physically have the stock on your shop floor. The impact this will have on stock control, manufacturing, overheads and therefore cash flow is immense. The only people who are not going to embrace this form of hybrid retail are of course the landlords. Shoppable windows will allow brands to have a presence in locations without having to commit to long leases, or have to deal with the expense of shop fittings. All of those costs will now be funneled into warehousing as more and more people become accustomed to the benefits of online retail.

For those wanting to avoid malls festooned with garish decorations and fake snow, you might have to wait a while for these shoppable windows to become more widespread. However, you can console yourself that this is possibly the first festive season that you can do all of your Christmas shopping, without having to listen to one Boney-M Christmas song. That itself is worth delving into the blissfully silent world of online shopping.

By: Dion Chang

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