As technology continues to infiltrate and integrate with our lives, the role of technology in real-world environments is still relatively undefined. Mobile commerce continues to grow, in most cases threatening rather than complementing the high-street. Is technology really the nemesis of bricks and mortar, or can the internet and connected devices improve offline shopping and leisure experiences in 2014?

These grey areas between the connected and real-world environments is where I currently operate, applying what I learnt in six years of mobile within the 25 year old 20.20 retail consultancy. Here are my Connected Retail predictions based on my current thinking, on what I helped 20.20 deliver in 2013 and some of the work already planned for 2014.

The direction and value of technology in retail and leisure spaces isn’t that clear, which is why I find it so interesting, and also why I’ve hedged my bets a bit by taking both an idealistic and realistic view of each Connected Retail technology trend.

NFC

What should happen?

Apple finally incorporate NFC into their devices and banks, credit card companies and mobile network operators get their acts together meaning that anyone with a smartphone can interact with OOH and point of sale and use their mobile to claim discounts, get product information, pay for items and collect loyalty points, all through one tap of their phone.

Really useful and integrated things start to happen with shopper marketing being linked to tills and mobile vouchering and loyalty suddenly becoming seamless and universally accessible.

£15 for a salad! - EE's version of an NFC wallet 'cash on tap' shown here - NFC might be great, but it doesn't stop you getting ripped off....

£15 for a salad! – EE’s version of a NFC wallet ‘cash on tap’ shown here – NFC might be great, but it doesn’t stop you getting ripped off….

What will probably happen?

Progress on NFC will be frustratingly slow (even though the raw technology is ten years old). Some will claim it’s already dead (like Tesco did last year), Apple may continue to ignore it, security concerns will abound and joining the real-world with digital for payment or vouchers will still require clunky QR codes or other work-arounds.

There is hope though, all the major mobile operators either have or plan a NFC based mobile wallet, and WEVE, a collaboration between O2, Vodafone and EE has promised a unified NFC loyalty and payment platform, but no date is given on their website for launch. In the meantime, clever companies like Eagle Eye and Flypay will use existing technologies to achieve today some of what NFC and mobile wallets promise for tomorrow.

Pretty Fly...Flypay let's you pay for your restuarant bill via your phone - using a NFC, QR codes or a URN

Pretty Fly…Flypay let’s you pay for your restuarant bill via your phone – using a NFC, QR codes or a URN

Social Shopping

What should happen?

Businesses will suddenly wake up and realise that social integration doesn’t mean amassing likes and follows and then spamming everyone with the same banal messages and valueless promotions. They will realise that social networks are for real people talking to other real people, and will abandon push marketing efforts and instead use social platforms to deliver on things that actually add value – like customer service and genuine dialogue. Progressive businesses with decent products will allow customers to freely exchange reviews and curate their own collections. They will also be trusted to access customer’s social data to increase relevance to those looking to buy and then provide better after-sales service and support.

What will probably happen?

Business will continue to jump on the social bandwagon without much thought around what value it adds or how effects can be measured in terms of actual sales or quality of experience. Retailers will still implore you to follow them on Facebook and Twitter, just as younger people move to less corporate platforms yet to list on the NYSE. A handful of businesses will see that the real power of social lies in genuine dialogue and empowering peer-to-peer activity, and an even smaller sub-set will find ways of bringing this into physical environments in meaningful ways. Easier said than done perhaps, but we must be able to do better than Pinterest Stickers or FB likes on hangers….

DeWalt showrooms use Reevoo social ratings to help sell drills. Boring? Yes and No!

DeWalt showrooms use Reevoo online ratings

Online goes offline

What should happen?

Fierce online competition and the clear value that shoppers ascribe to ‘real’ brands and handling ‘real’ products will encourage many pure-play online retailers to try setting up on the high street. Pop-up providers will thrive, as will those providing simple mobile based payment solutions. By next Christmas the empty spaces left by defunct offline businesses will start to fill with an interesting array of online retailers in low-cost high-tech temporary retail units.

What will probably happen?

All the ingredients and conditions seem to be there to support this one, so this is one trend that risks gaining momentum in 2014. According to research by Royal Mail some 17% of online SMEs are considering a real-world shop, and pop-up companies like Appear Here and a plethora of simple mobile EPOS providers are gearing up to cater for them. At 20.20, we are currently talking to at least two existing clients about technology enhanced pop-up stores – watch this space!

You can buy a mobile payment chip and pin gizmo from John Lewis for £60! Quite the thing for the upwardly mobile drug dealer…or pop-up store

Intelligent in-store Wifi and apps

What should happen?

In my opinion, in-situ Wifi is one of the biggest untapped marketing and CRM opportunities for retail and leisure businesses. The basic infrastructure is in place (i.e. Wifi networks, consumer’s smartphones) so retail and leisure operations can easily use this localised communications channel to open up new creative and commercial possibilities.

Leisure environments will install high-capacity Wifi, allowing mass interactive participation at music and sporting events, even small venues and stores will install Wifi, not just as a free data offer, but as a service portal. All retail apps will recognise that they have entered a store environment and serve up location and context relevant content, and the same will happen if you access the retailer’s mobile site whilst in store.

What will probably happen?

Unfortunately, intelligent in-situ Wifi sits at the confluence of marketing, IT and estate management, and has for the most part been farmed out to technical providers. What is quite a simple idea in theory is in fact quite challenging to deliver in real life (it took me over 6 months to launch just one basic Wifi portal in 2013).

Just because it’s challenging, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. With Wifi an almost must-have in retail and leisure spaces, I expect more companies to start looking at how to leverage this infrastructure beyond allowing visitors free access to Facebook or competitors’ websites.

High-capacity Wifi in venues (especially stadiums) will slowly start to become standard in 2014, and creative use of these new networks combined with consumer’s smartphones, i-Beacons and in-situ screens has the potential to create some truly engaging leisure experiences.

Heathrow and The Barbican Arts Centre are some of only a handful of spaces using wifi to promote services

Heathrow and The Barbican Arts Centre are some of only a handful of spaces using wifi to promote services

In-situ screens

What should happen?

Connected screens will start to be used within retail and leisure environments in much more strategic ways and will be planned into the space so that they form part of both the customer journey and the interior design approach. Digital display screens will be used to both enhance the sense of theatre and add a layer of dynamic communications to store and leisure environments, and not just in flagship stores. All this will happen as high-street brands begin to look up from the depths of economic despair and start to think about how technology and digital design can enhance emotion, connection and brand building.

Kiosks and connected screens will continue to appear on the shop-floor, and won’t look like they’ve been dropped in at random, nor will they simply serve up a version of the website.

Staff will be empowered through technology, not threatened, and they will be given bespoke tools on smartphones and tablets that give them more information at their fingertips than their customers walking in off the streets.

What will probably happen?

Some retailers will invest proper time and money in working out what customers actually need and what in-situ technology is relevant. They’ll also work out a way of ensuring that customer needs dictate the approach, not the IT department, eCommerce provider or management consultants.

Depressingly, many attempts to create ‘Future Stores’ will fail, which will put some companies off. However, those who take a strategic, step-by-step and experience led approach will win out.

By the end of 2014 my sincere hope is that the Burberry/Nike Store will no longer be the only examples of innovative UK retail technology that observers trot out, and that meaningful and commercially successful interactive screens will be appearing in many malls, department stores and service based retailers – just as they already do in the far east.

Omnichannel not multichannel

What should happen?

Whatever you might think about Omnichannel as a term, at the very least it signals an intention to view and do things from a customer centric rather than organisational point of view. In an ideal world, all multi-channel operations will all take a omni-channel approach and put customer choice and cross-channel experience at the heart of their marketing, IT and retailing operations.

They will achieve huge success. Achieving this through bold re-engineering of their businesses, breaking down corporate functional silos and developing a holistic approach to design, communications, product and place. They will appoint Customer Experience Directors, who will architect these new service paradigms, and give them increasing oversight over cross-channel activities. Customers won’t know or care which channel they use to communicate or transact through, everything will be on brand and seamless, with technology taking an important supporting role, but never in the driving seat.

What will probably happen?

Only the brave and future facing will really start to act ‘horizontally’ across their existing business channels. Omni-channel will still be seen by many as a facet of e-commerce, which completely misses the point, and most traditional businesses will continue to fail to even meet the basic needs of their multi-channel customers.

By the end of 2014 there will still be major retailers without a decent mobile site, running tills that can’t take mobile payments or vouchers, maintaining expensive retail spaces that they heat, light and staff without even being able to attribute store visits to eventual online sales. And it is these businesses that, after dismal Christmas 2014 trading, will go bust in early 2015, blaming it all on ‘the internet’ and Amazon…