Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

PepsiCo and Umbro among brands trialling interactive retail store launch

NDA took a virtual visit to the opening of a new interactive retail store in Shoreditch aims to redefine the physical shopping experience in a contactless world.

CornerShop was conceived as an experiment pre-pandemic, but its architects believe its aim of fusing community with technology is more important than ever. It will offer smart tech throughout, with QR codes, ‘smart’ hangers, screens to virtually try on clothing, ‘purposeful shelves’ and vertical farming.

It is the brainchild of Capgemini Invent, the digital innovation, consulting and transformation brand of the Capgemini Group, in partnership with SharpEnd, a connected consumer agency and IoT specialist, and The Drum.

The store will be transactional, offering everything from groceries and coffee to fashion, and its creators say prices will be pegged “in the real world”, though its intention is not to be commercially viable.

Instead, it is an experiment to define how the high street can thrive in a digital age – how retailers, brands and customers can connect in a purposeful way, and inform the partners how best to inform their clients on the future retail experience.

Steve Hewett, Head of Retail Customer Experience at Capgemini Invent, says: “There are fundamental questions building on what is the actual value of going and visiting a shop.

“We started this before Covid struck, but what Covid did at a macro level was pour a bunch of fuel on the fire that was already raging in retail and, in particular, stores.”

As The Drum’s founder Gordon Young adds: “The pandemic has caused the high street to worry about its survival, but we opened our retail store in lockdown to show brands and retailers that there are solutions available. We are excited to showcase new experiences and pioneering technologies that can help retailers innovate and thrive in the post-pandemic world.”

Brands including PepsiCo and Umbro are involved in the initiative while YeoValley, which is experimenting with connected packaging, is likely to come on board. The initiative is also working with a number of start-up tech firms to deliver a next-gen retail experience.

Hewett says that many brands have talked about omnichannel retail but few have delivered it. “This year I believe there will be an arms race around omnichannel again. Retailers need to really close that cross-channel experience – we see a big change coming and Covid has reinforced that need.”

Rob Hollands, Managing Director at SharpEnd, says that the concept store has been 18 months in the planning and that the focus has been around “community”. “The industry needs this, the local community needs this [in order to] to drive change.”

He says the CornerShop is designed to explore opportunities and intersections across “four fundamental aspects of future shopping experiences”: purpose, personalisation, automation and augmentation.

“Our conviction is that retail has a role in helping customers fulfil their purpose,” says Hewitt. The store will stock products from clothing to QSR, grocery and other cross category products, with shoppers able to shop before they visit via their mobiles or pick up barista-style coffees in socially distanced ways.

They are leveraging a number of technologies across the store though Hollands says that technology is an enabler rather than the whole point of the exercise. “It’s not just a case of throwing technology against the way [but about] creating a differentiated experience.”

Hewett adds that data will help create safe spaces with workers able to spot clusters of people, bottlenecks or popular aisles in real time in order to deliver a more socially distanced shopping experience.

“We are experimenting with concepts, technologies and business models,” he says, adding that mobile will be the “remote control of the store”.

Inside, the CornerShop mobile app will convert visitors’ smartphones into their guide, leading them through the space and providing insights on the technologies and future concepts on display. These will include Bluetooth-enabled personalised greetings; the generation of actionable insights on customers and their behaviour; virtual try-on, vertical farming and purposeful shelves, whereby customers will be able to share their individual needs in order to have a more personalised shopping experience.

It is mooted that the concept store will be rolled out to other cities and countries, or its findings to power pilot projects from both brands and retailers.