The future of showrooming


Photo: Ben Jones (CC)

Retail is at a make-or-break moment. We could be looking at a future where we order through Amazon while surrounded by the empty hulls of malls and big boxes.

Maybe enough shoppers will still insist on the tactile experience of visiting stores and walking through aisles of merchandise. Will retailers embrace showrooming, the practice of browsing in person then ordering online?

A customer turns to her phone to look at the color options for a sofa, as well as similar pieces from competitors. She dons VR goggles to see how it looks in her living room (and how the room looks while sitting on that couch). Before she leaves, she places an order online for a customized version with a specialty fabric and measurements tailored to her house.

If we need to see how this showroom of the future works, we should visit our local museum.

In an article for Forbes, Deep Patel explained how museums could reach a new generation of visitors by enhancing its digital storytelling. It may not be enough for exhibits to feature audio snippets and artwork labels. Already, visitors are turning to Google searches to learn more about their favorite pieces.

Not only can museums give patrons an immersive experience, they can also (sinister music) track their movements to understand which exhibits are most popular. Perhaps a visitor who spends 20 minutes at a particular sculpture receives a notification that the gift shop’s corresponding poster is 30 percent off.

Patel says that once museums install this technology, it won’t be long before concert venues and bars follow suit. It isn’t a stretch to imagine retailers also jumping on the bandwagon.

With this kind of targeted storytelling, museums might be early adopters in catering to digitally savvy patrons. And retail centers might end up more like museums rather than in them.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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