Let’s Get Physical

Matterport’s managing director James Morris-Manuel talks the future of physical retail

Shoppers have made their tentative return to retail destinations, but footfall number dwindling below pre-pandemic reflect a continuing wariness among the British public. The question for landlords is: what can we do to entice shoppers back? James Morris-Manuel, managing director of Europe at spatial data company, Matterport, believes interactive and engaging retail experiences are the answer.

 “However, consumers want to interact with a brand in more exciting ways and have become accustomed to the convenience of ecommerce,” says Morris-Manuel. “Retailers will have to adapt their physical spaces to meet their changing shopping habits, and this comes down to blending the benefits of physical shops and ecommerce into a unified virtual world that delivers innovative experiences, giving retailers an edge.”

There is, he says, plenty of demand for this as according to data from Accenture, 73 per cent of retailers believe virtual environments will enhance interactions and experiences in physical environments. Once considered futuristic, he points out that this is now a tangible reality for retailers to let consumers virtually visit a shop before they set foot inside. He is certain that immersive experiences are going to be the way forward, and thinks it would be naïve for retailers to focus all their attention on ecommerce.

When it comes to creating experiences, return on investment is always going to be a factor, but Morris-Manual points out that advanced technology is becoming more affordable. He cites Nissan, which brought cars to consumers through its UK showroom digital twin, providing immersive 3D experiences where users could look in and around vehicles.

This, he says, demonstrates that immersive shopping and virtual pop-ups are becoming mainstream, and he believes the benefits of these digital stores can go both ways: “3D digital twins are an ideal way for merchants to effectively manage in-store equipment, inventory, POS displays and product selection and payment, enabling them to create a consistent brand experience that can be quickly deployed across multiple store locations and sites, saving time and money.”

The other solution he offers for the future of shopping is having a stockless high street, much like the Argos model: “Treating high street stores like ‘showrooms’ could be the answer to this problem. A place where consumers can come and try on products, order them in-store and have them delivered from the centralised warehouse to their home the next day. 

“Looking ahead, having a smaller volume of inventory will ensure retailers won’t be in a similar position again. The long-term swing towards more online purchases means retailers are already looking into creating immersive versions of their stores that can be viewed online, and applying the same techniques in new and exciting ways. This is likely to lead to a completely ‘stockless’ high street, enhancing the shopping experience. This also builds resilience in the supply chain as digital twins can help predict shocks better and adapt.”

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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