GDR’s John O’Sullivan explores the next generation of ultra-convenient retail formats that customers will be able to summon on-demand
During the last five years mobile-powered brands like Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and Domino’s have normalised the idea of products and services being instantly delivered to customers wherever they want them. As consumers we now expect to be able to order food at any time, even when we’re at a public park or a beach, have products delivered to our car when we’re not around, and we have on-demand access to stylists, tailors, car rental and laundry services, among myriad other things.
A number of interesting concepts are starting to emerge, however, which suggest that this level of convenience may simply be a drop in the ocean compared to what the future holds. These offerings envisage a world where it won’t simply be your selected items winging themselves to you, but the very stores themselves. It’s a concept at GDR that we’re calling “Come to me” retail.
The future of autonomous transport
Last month the Ikea-funded “future-living lab” Space 10 released a concept called Spaces on Wheels that imagines the possibilities of urban transport once autonomous cars become ubiquitous. It worked with foam Studio to create concept drawings of a fleet of autonomous mobile retail spaces that consumers can beckon to their current location by dropping a pin on a map in the associated app.
The fleet includes a co-working space, a coffee shop, a chemist, a farmer’s market, a hotel, a gaming centre and, of course, an Ikea pop-up store. In many ways it is reminiscent of a 2016 concept from trendy London gym 1Rebel, which proposed hosting mobile spinning classes on popular bus routes so that Londoners could exercise on their commutes. The latter was ultimately curtailed by local authority regulations, but both concepts picture a future where things like retail, leisure and work mould much more seamlessly around people’s daily lives.
Space10’s research says: “In congested cities, an average person driving to work spends 75 minutes commuting. About 30 of those minutes are lost to congestion. This means that over 32 years, the driver will have spent two years stuck in traffic.”
By removing this apparent dead time from people’s days the idea is that they’ll be able to more efficiently juggle their work life and family time with other pursuits.
Solving social issues
US chocolate brand Hershey’s has created a future-of -retail concept called Medley, which anticipates the changing role of retail in the decades ahead. One element of this, The Oasis of Freshness, uses the idea of “Come to me” retail to solve a traditional geographical problem with US grocery retail. Targeting the “food deserts” of the US (remote communities where access to fresh produce is almost-non-existent) small footprint, mobile units will move throughout under-served areas, bringing produce from local farmers.
Digital elements will enable endless aisle ordering, but the key element is the idea that the store no longer needs to be a fixed physical location. It can be a flexible space that can move and adapt to better serve the needs of local communities.
Retail wherever the customer wants
All of this is of interest conceptually, but a long way off in the future, right? Wrong. It’s starting to happen now.
As long ago as last June mobile convenience store concept Moby started trialling in Shanghai. The 24-hour retail space on wheels has huge similarities to the Space10 concept mentioned earlier. It functions as a convenience store, a mini pharmacy, a coffee shop and an ATM, and consumers even use an app to summon it to their location.
Like the unmanned convenience stores that are rolling out in their thousands in China, customers use the app to enter, scan and pay for their purchases. It is retail wherever and whenever the customer wants, and a built-in air filtration device even purifies the air as Moby moves throughout the city.
A full-scale rollout of Moby will be dependent upon the maturation of self-driving technology and the laws policing it. But to all intents and purposes, Moby is ready to roll as soon as the stars align on that.
While Moby may still be some way off, there are other solutions based on the same principles that are being trialled extensively in real-world locations right now.
Mio is a vending bot on wheels that autonomously moves throughout busy spaces to conveniently sell CPG products to busy consumers. It includes a sensor so that it stops when people approach it. Customers can select their items on touchscreens or using their voice, and they pay with cash or card. In future the company intends to create a mobile app that will allow hungry or thirsty customers to summon the robot to their location.
When I spoke to Mio CEO Roman Drokov last year he said: “Whenever you want anything it should already be there. We have the technology to do this, so why aren’t we doing this? We can send robots to Mars and do all sort of things there, but we still have to walk to the store when we want a snack. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
A key element of Mio is the analytics. Anonymised data it collects will allow vendors or brands to tailor their offerings based on things like time of day and location, while it will also be able to give emotional feedback about how the purchase changed a customer’s mood, or what the current mood is like in the area it’s in.
Robomart is another robotic start-up nearing commercial rollout. It is a self-driving grocery store that customers can hail to their location so they can select and buy what they need. The beauty of this execution is that it eliminates one of the biggest bug bears of buying groceries online by allowing customers to hand pick their own produce.
Extensive on-campus trials have already taken place in California, while the first commercial pilots are set to take place in the San Francisco Bay area before the end of the year.
It’s become clear during the so-called “retail apocalypse” of the last few years that traditional store formats are no longer fit for purpose when it comes to serving mobile-obsessed modern shoppers. While many new formats will no doubt emerge that harness the possibilities of technology to let customers explore, experience and buy wherever they want, it’s difficult to imagine a format that beats the convenience of a store that literally drives to you.