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Wired Retail: The Rise of the Dematerialising World

This week’s Wired Retail conference put the focus firmly on one idea: the leading technology innovations that are changing the way we see things, live our lives and interact with one another.

The conference put all of 2016’s biggest talking points under the microscope, from The Internet of Things, to conversational commerce, rental, direct to consumer brands, applications of big data as well as a look at new developments in augmented and virtual realities.

But the biggest key takeaway which shook brick and mortar retailers was the phrase coined by Jody Medich, from Singularity University Labs ‘the rise of the dematerialising future’. Medich described how objects that were once integral to our daily lives have been subsumed by computers and the Internet, but also that despite that the physical world is not done disappearing just yet.

All of this comes at a time where consumers are becoming less interested in physical objects and more interested in experiences.

“All those things we thought essential materially, disappeared into the virtual environment,” she said. “They have all gone into the screen – but in the future, we are going to be looking through that screen.”

Augmented reality is set to drive this change, but what form it could take will vary – whether through phones, headsets, or AR contact lenses.

“Instead of looking into a screen, we will be looking through the screen. When we do that, magical things will happen,” Medich said.

Microsoft hololens

Retailers are already taking steps in this direction, for instance where furniture retailer Wayfair has built an app that can accurately measure your environment so you can see how furniture would look in it.

“Tango knows the dimensions and can see the decor of my space, then suggest what types of end tables I will want. Then I can just put it there and see what it looks like.”

She described how the convergence of advances in 3D printing, AI and robotics alongside AR, will fundamentally change our world.

In that world, consumers will have virtual AI assistants visiting their homes to redesign them, people renting virtual high-end fashion items and jewellery that can only be seen through AR lenses, and bedrooms will become virtual fitting rooms that know what’s in our wardrobe, and what we need.

It also means traditional brick and mortar retailers will have to start innovating and disrupting their current store designs, customer service channels and the way they engage with consumers to stay relevant in this brave new world.

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