British telecommunications and electronics company BT recently sent out a press release about their "Store of the Future" concept which should be of interest to those of us in digital retailing and digital merchandising. Everything from RFID to digital signage has been thrown into the mix (cleverly dubbed Ker'Ching - click that link, it has cool pictures), which BT officials suggest can save money for store owners and customers alike by making the retail experience as efficient as possible.
The future store concept comes as the result of BT's renewed focus on retail services, which it got into in a big way after acquiring retail technology firm NSB back in 2003. The arm of the company responsible for the Store of the Future concept is now apparently called BT Exact.
I'd like to tell you something more about BT Exact, but the "welcome"
paragraph on their homepage is so phenomenally buzzword-laden that I
couldn't begin to tell you what they claim to do, and I couldn't bring
myself to read the rest of their page.
The store tests several technologies, including digital signs, self-service kiosks,
"smart" shelves that can detect when products are added and removed,
and update inventory systems accordingly, computerized shopping carts
(which they call trolleys, because, you know, they're British), RFID
product tracking, automated checkout, biometric payment systems, and a
slew of high-tech warehouse systems.
I think the concept of a
Future Store is fascinating, and I'd like to see something like this
first hand (if I recall correctly, they do something similar at GlobalShop
every year, but I don't think it's quite the same). I wonder,
though, if a retailer going into this demo would really be able to see
the forest for the trees. With so many new, innovative, and just plain
cool technologies crowding the demo space, I think that I would be hard
pressed to see where the most valuable parts of the solution
are. I'm very much an experiment-test-verify type of
person, and when working with customers I typically recommend they
start out with as simple an experiment as possible in order to test
their strategy. So, for example, a kiosk application with the
fewest number of required features to be useful, or a digital signage
campaign with "control" and "experimental" content. By taking the
simple approach, it's much easier to go back and see the actual value
of the experiment - whether by measuring ROI, or calculating some other
value that the experiment was supposed to produce. Working on two
(or more) experiments simultaneously makes this a lot harder, since
it's impossible to know if the experiments are interfering with each
other without running even more control cases. And this is the
trouble that I would think Store of the Future would run into.
Sure, it makes a cool looking demo, but all of the new and unproven
technologies compete and interfere with each other, making it hard to
determine where the value really is.