The Future of Retail is Natively Digital

Imagine a future when you’ll be greeted by a digital wall when you step into a store, which will display a custom view of virtual products that are personalized to your past purchases and recommended by people similar to you. Simply touch any product to get more information, including a video and customer reviews, or request assistance from an associate. Add products to your virtual shopping cart, and a bag with the physical products will be waiting for you as you leave the store.

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PARC is working on new technologies to enable these kinds of experiences in the near future. Our vision is a ubiquitous personalized, real time natively digital experience that digital natives have come to expect through experiences with companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Uber. In a natively digital world, our experiences will be interactive and intelligent — with real time sensing from cameras and wearables — blending the physical and digital worlds.  The retail store of the future will have all the features of a digital experience combined with the personal service and availability of a physical store.

Two global technology trends are driving this future: the Internet of Things and Machine Intelligence. These technologies give us the power of a digital nervous system that can not only sense the world around us, but understand and anticipate our needs, and deliver outcomes that we want. This exciting new marriage of physical and digital enables retailers to provide personalized experiences with engaged customers.

Video analytics using cameras and image processing can help retailers understand customer shopping patterns in the store. This will provide real data (and ever-changing data) in order to optimize displays and merchandising, and know when to send associates to help customers. PARC is working with Xerox to develop robots to visually scan store shelves, automate signs, alert the manager of out-of-stock items, and help with merchandising compliance — all at lower cost and with fewer errors.

Will Machines Replace People?

As computers get more capable to perform complex tasks, the future will be about people and computers collaborating as teams. We are designing collaborative systems that leverage the respective strengths of people and computers to do work better. Together. And, in fact, the interaction between people and computers make our lives better and more productive.

For example, we are working on enabling intelligent virtual assistants that converse with people to build a shared context and understanding over time in order to provide better service. We are also working in the area of hyper-personalization to go beyond just understanding people by their behaviors and actions, but truly knowing them as individuals — including their personality — so we can tailor communications.

In this future — where we use a variety of sensors and data to understand people — we also need to respect and preserve personal privacy. PARC’s research in privacy-preserving analytics focuses on developing special encryption techniques that allow us to run predictive algorithms on encrypted data. This will enable personalized applications to extract the value of context-aware, personalized services without allowing anyone to see personal data.

The future of retail is natively digital. Going far beyond omnichannel, the future is about the integration of physical and digital in order to deliver personalized, real-world, real-time experiences. At PARC, we’re excited to create the future in our labs, and we look forward to bringing these new capabilities to our clients and partners around the world.

by  Lawrence Lee, Senior Director of Strategy at PARC, a Xerox Company

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