A few weeks ago, I attended a two-day innovation competition run by Sensis and after walking around and talking to the teams, I came to an interesting realisation about the future of retail.
The competition brought together 60 or so budding entrepreneurs to compete to design and build the most innovative software products that use the Sensis business directory. These events are known as ‘hackathons’.
The weekend started at 9am on Saturday morning where the participants are loaded up with caffeine, briefed on the rules, and then start to mingle to discuss ideas and form teams. As the teams coalesce they peel off to find a desk and a whiteboard and get to work on their idea.
They could work as late as they like, or even through the night (which some teams did) but at 3pm on the Sunday the judging began and each team has five minutes to present their concept and show a demo of their software running.
Being on the judging panel, I was able to roam around during the day and listen to the early ideas form, hear the pitches, observe the prototypes, and give advice. I was visiting my sixth team (out of a total of 13 who competed) when I started to notice a trend.
There were job hunting applications, a road trip planner, various shopping alerters, a pub crawl assistant, a searcher for shops with small queues, a coffee shop game, and more. These are all great little ideas and are all pushing up into the two concepts that are circling around this industry right now.
Um, could you please pass the SoMoLo?
The first is the “SoMoLo” movement which is fairly mature at this stage. That’s broadly the trend of using social media for discussing and getting recommendations from your friends, using mobiles to read reviews and get product information, and then looking up maps to find local stores that stock the products you are interested in.
The second is the “Mashops” trend. That is the combing of a web experience using stored data on a mobile to enhance a shoppers physical experience (and hence likelihood to buy) at the “shop edge.”
As I was roaming around talking to these teams it dawned on me that they were all one step from something we all have known has been coming for 20 years. And that is a virtual presence in the physical world.
You and your mates plan a pub crawl, and the local bar owners along the route offer you deals on your mobiles to entice you into their establishment as you pass by. While on a road trip, the information booth at the next country town informs you of local events as you pull into town. You enter your favourite shopping centre and a shop assistant sends you a real time photo of the dress she knows you have been waiting for.
Behold! The future!
Ok, so it might sound a little creepy right now, but I think it’s inevitable and will be business as usual in a few short years. I don’t think we know yet the exact form it will take – my examples above are just illustrative, but real time, location based, two-way communication between the retail world and the consumers in the street outside is the next logical step. It’s been in science fiction books for decades.
The internet is not going to kill retail. It’s going to put it on steroids.
And who knows, maybe one of the participants at the weekend hackathon will be the one to make it happen.
The Hackathon, as recorded by Sensis
Simon Raik-Allen is MYOB’s CTO. An IT practitioner with 15+ years of industry experience, Simon is well accustomed to working within innovating industries and specialises in bringing leading edge products to market. With a background in software engineering, Simon cut his teeth in Silicon Valley within a variety of companies across trading exchanges, e-commerce, business intelligence, communications, banking, media and entertainment.