Retail Innovations 9: Global Retail Trends 2013 Part 9—Technology Intervention

Technology itself is not an innovation; what the technology enables customers to do is that which provides a glimpse of true innovation. There are marvelous examples of uses of technology providing consumers with more choice, more access and more information than ever before. Let’s take a look at two such cases from Retail Innovations 9.

Hointer (USA – Seattle)

Retail meets technology at Hointer where they have reinvented shopping through the use of smartphones and robotics in their apparel stores.
Hointer is a micro-warehouse within a store, allowing easy exchange and visibility of products across stores. Product status and the whereabouts of every item are always readily available in store, which helps in inventory control.

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For customers, this translates into a unique omni-channel way to shop that utilizes a tool most customers already have — a smartphone. Because all of the apparel is tracked in the cloud by Hointer’s back-end system, the company knows exactly where each article of clothing is at all times. So, if a customer in one of their stores wants a specific pair of jeans not available in store, the app will show where else the product is available. Customers can try on the jeans for proper fit, and then order their preferred wash or size with Hointer’s overnight shipping for next day delivery — or perhaps receive it on the same day via Google if the product is available in their area.

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This inventory-sharing model allows Hointer to carry just the right amount of product and distribute them across their locations. With this model, it is unnecessary to carry ten different washes of jeans or colors of shirts at every store. As long as Hointer has one model in each size and examples of what other colors are available, customers have instant access to the entire inventory, regardless of location.

Hointer is designed so customers can be in and out in minutes, a play on the word ‘hunter’ because it is believed that men always have a target when they shop and they want to get it done quickly. Before shopping, customers download the Hointer app or can ask a tablet-equipped employee to accompany them through the store. When they see something they want to try on, customers simply scan the QR code — or place their phone next to the NFC-enabled tag.

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After scanning or tapping, customers are prompted with available sizes and once a specific pair is selected, the clothes are dropped into a virtual shopping cart. Customers can continue to drop other items into their shopping carts; when ready, they click “try on” which sends them to a designated dressing room.

When customers arrive at the dressing room, the clothes are already there waiting for them, delivered through an automated robotic process on the back-end. If they don’t like the clothes or want to try on a different size, they can be sent back through the chute in the dressing room and are then automatically taken out of the shopping cart. When ready to purchase, customers tap their phone to a pay station in the store and swipe a credit card.

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Hointer displays only one of each item and puts the bulk of its merchandise in an automated stockroom. Garments are hung so customers can see every detail, rather than the piles often seen in apparel stores. The back-end is very small, accounting for only 10% of the store, but is able to hold thousands of products due its unique organization format. This back-end system is entirely automated, but can also be configured to a more manual setting.

Hointer’s data collection allows the company to keep track of every customer’s purchase habits, every scan they’ve made, how many times they have requested alterations, as well as how much product is available and at which stores.

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Hointer’s stores have combined the best of the physical and online world by allowing customers to see, feel and try on clothing while offering a quick and convenient way for men and women to make purchases and proceed with life. They have lowered overall operational costs for their retail stores through the use of an automated stockroom while gathering customer data through the use of their mobile app. Hointer represents a new way of shopping by simplifying the customer experience while using technology that customers already own.

Audi City Mayfair (UK – London)

A new digital car showroom format that uses state-of-the-art technology to make clever use of a small store format, as space is so precious in central London.

Audi City

Audi has solved the problem of having large objects in a high-rent retail space through the use of digital technology. The store only showcases a few cars in combination with top-to-bottom digital screens that line the walls. Customers can customize any model of Audi car from interactive touch screens and drag the virtual image of it onto these digital walls. The digital visualization of the car is life-size and moveable, so the customer may view it from as many different angles as they choose.

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Audi has shown itself to be an early innovator in developing complex digital configurators. While the likes of NIKE have been offering digital personalization services since 1999 with NIKEiD, the complexity and scale of a car presents a very different challenge. For the customer to have the confidence to purchase a car from only having seen a digital visualization of it, the technology has to be state of the art and highly realistic. Audi City delivers just that. Audi City has proved that it is possible to sell cars without having seen, felt and tried them out.

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Audi has made its mark in digital personalization. The retail model itself can offer significant operational benefits by having a customer pay for a product before it is produced to specification, limiting the need to predict range.

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Through state-of-the-art technology retailers continue to realize significant gains that go beyond operational efficiency. As the above cases demonstrate, technology can be used in many new and exciting ways as a means to solve the problems that retailers face today. Retailers can also benefit by incorporating their customers’ technology tools into their operations as well.

About Retail Innovations 9

RI9 - imageRetail lnnovations 9 is J.C. Williams Group’s and Ebeltoft Group’s ( latest compilation of leading edge innovation, highlighting individual ideas and the key themes that emerge from studying the whole.

This edition features 54 of the best innovation cases from 23 countries and pinpoints the nine global innovation trends.

To obtain a copy of this publication, click here.


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