Retail Technology: Is wearable technology the future of retail?

October 6, 2014

A mobile solutions engineering specialist examines the impact of devices like Google Glass on the retail landscape

“The answer would be maybe, but it’s too soon to tell,” says Roland Campbell, director of solutions engineering for multichannel and mobile technology company Usablenet.
 
Google Glass, Android Wear, Galaxy Gear and Apple’s iWatch are just some of the latest examples of wearable technology that could shake up the retail world.
 
Experiential shopping
 
Campbell believes that undoubtedly, such devices open the window to a more “experiential" shopping interaction.  “Indoor navigation, in-store promotions and cross-channel engagements could all be revolutionised by activity trackers, smart watches, smart glasses and wearable cameras,” he says. 
 
“The perceived impact that this technology could have is formidable - Deloitte predicted that 10 million wearable devices will ship globally in 2014, and most of these are likely to be fitness bands.”
 
Early adopters
 
Campbell notes that in response to such expectation, online retailer Amazon has recently launched a dedicated store for wearable technology in the UK, offering more than 100 different products in this category. 
 
“In terms of what this could mean for the retail experience, some of the most basic and fundamental interactions could be transformed by this technology,” he adds. “Instead of using the phone camera to scan the barcode, shoppers could simply look at the barcode and scan it automatically. 
 
“Consumers could also find items in a store by picking up different Beacons which guide you to the relevant aisle or product. Google Glass could connect to a shopper’s Google Wallet, check them out and simply email the receipt once a purchase has been made.”
 
Campbell points to the example of early adopter Disney and its use of RFID armbands to link entry tickets to room keys and credit card details. “This, however, remains one of the few examples of wearable tech being used in a consumer-facing environment and though we have just started to touch on the possible future use cases, do not expect to see these in action on the high street in the next few weeks.”
 
Slow revolution
 
“Compelling as these examples may be, such a retail revolution will take time,” says Campbell. “Retailers don’t need to re-do their mobile strategies just yet.”  He notes that some are experimenting with this technology, such as Tesco, which announced it has developed a concept Glass app that could be used in its stores, and the US-based retailer The Container Store which is using wearable computers to replace walkie-talkie communication. 
 
“However, trials such as those that Tesco is undertaking will only be used to add an additional layer of functionality to apps and websites, rather than dictating complete rewrites,” he explains.
 
“It must be remembered that Google is an innovator, and Google Glass is a truly pioneering invention,” adds Campbell. “This does not mean that the device is meant for the masses.”
 
The novelty factor
 
Campbell describes Google Glass in the current moment as an expensive, novelty item that concerns only the most tech-savvy devotees, not the average consumer on the High Street.
 
“It was only released for sale in the UK at the end of June this year, and on the Glass Explorer Programme, making it just the second country to get the eyewear after the US,” he says. “It is also not without its technical limitations, especially when text/content-heavy websites are concerned.
 
Keeping an eye on watches
 
“By contrast, the usability of watch-based wearables seems clearer and more defined, and a much more viable option for consumers than Google Glass. It will still be a while before they are gracing the wrists of the general public however.”
 
Campbell feels that whilst the price bracket is much more achievable for the average shopper, the cumbersome, bulky offerings currently on sale make them the opposite of what they should be: wearable.  “Not to mention you need to take them off when doing the washing up, hopping in the shower or typing,” he adds.  “The short battery life also compromises functionality.”
 
Smartphones win
 
At the moment, in Campbell’s opinion, no device can come close to the smartphone in terms of usability and ubiquity. “It’s discreet, customisable and user friendly, not to mention powerful. Ultimately, wearable technology isn’t yet capable of anything more than a smartphone – users can answer emails and text messages, take photographs and videos and browse the internet.”
 
He concludes that many retailers have yet to optimise their websites for mobile and tablet despite this, so there is no need to look any further ahead into revolutionary industry developments.  “Until a great use case is established, the future of wearable technology will remain out of sight - nothing will knock mobile off its perch until then,” he says.
 
Read the story on Retail Technology
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