These last few weeks have seen a lot of features about B-Reel’s excellent recent interactive touchscreen live sales assistant interface for Sweden’s 3 Mobile Phone Store. The new interface - aka ’3 LiveShop’ enables a sales assistant to present various options in the style of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The touch screen interface allows the assistant to sweep and select with multiple touches and drag and drop pictures and text panels onto the interface. On the client side, the customer can then view / click on their screen to select / approve the options presented.
Of course this looks very slick and user-friendly, and contains some amazing technology - beautifully executed, but it adds more to the retail side than the shopping side. In many ways it’s a new innovation on a very old fashioned transaction. Back in the earliest days of retail, we had the General Store, where a shop keeper behind the counter did all the running around - making selections on behalf of the customer and presenting them with options. This is really just a hi-tech update of that.
Modern retail has moved much more towards automated vending - think of all the vending machines you get on a typical Tokyo street corner - many of them now with modern touch-screen interfaces. A future-proof system really needs to be highly automated and easily and constantly accessible. The advantgage of the Internet is not only that it can reach customers remotely, but that it can reach them at any time of day or night. Of course 3 could put on shifts which covered 24/7/365 - but there’s a very significant cost overhead for this, which would be prohibitive for most retailers.
For my mind, the future of retail is most definitely Automated Social Commerce - where the sales assistant’s role is taken up by both the technology, as well as the other members of that retailer’s community -i.e. other knowledgeable customers. I can see all kinds of clever lessons being learnt from the ’3 LiveShop’ experience, and this technology eventually becoming established in a more domesticated environment - where customers assist each other online by using just such ’Minority Report’ gesture-based on-screen communication.
So in short B-Reel / 3 are not wholly the future of online retail, but certainly set down some signficant markers for future developments.