Allez Les Bleus in Tech Retail!

Last week at Paris Retail Week I met a number of French people who all repeated the same mantra to me – you are so innovative in retail in the UK. Well sacré bleu this is French negativism at its worst. The reality is the French are darned good at inventing new retail concepts – the hypermarket was an invention by Carrefour in the 60’s; international food retail was pioneered by Carrefour and Auchan in the 1970’s and 80’s; recently Auchan piloted the shop and collect drive-in format which was taken forward by Leclerc. And if you look at the area of retail which really interests us, a trip around Paris should remind any Brit that French creativity is not to be ignored in tech retail, and particularly connected objects.

Here is what I saw on the Paris Retail tour and in a visit yesterday to some additional stores:

  • the new Orange store in the Champs Elysees – you walk into a store with VR demonstrations on Samsung Gear headsets happening as you walk in (or at least you did last week, this week they were sadly missing) – this is a tech destination showing off smart home, health, connected car, fun gadgets, and a workspace for repair. The layout is airy and modern, the displays very Apple. My only disappointment was that the “coach” experience did not work as it should and I was left to wander round by myself. This concept store being rolled out all over Europe is part of an omnichannel strategy linking the on and offline journey of the customer. 8/10
  • Fnac Connect is on the Champs Elysees and has a small selection of connected objects and a large space dedicated to mobile phones. There is little visibility of store staff and it has not moved on since it was introduced nearly two years ago. But it is there and is being invested in as new stores are being rolled out over France in the Connect format. Inside the main Fnac store on the lower ground floor was excitement – the first display of Oculus headsets, on sale only in Fnac stores. I was underwhelmed as they were piled high next to a similar pile of HTC Vive. This is the biggest opportunity for tech retail to bring in the crowds as the Orange store has proven with the Samsung Gear and as clearly highlighted in our consumer survey on VR 7/10
  • Darty – I went to the Beaugrenelle store as I had read that it was a concept store for them. It has a dynamic welcome with a connected back to school campaign, and had a very full offer of connected objects ranged over multiple gondolas and displays. There is no doubt that Darty means business with connected objects. But what is still missing is the engagement with shoppers. What does it all mean? You are left to work it out for yourself. 7/10
  • Boulanger’s flagship store in Opera was our last visit and was a true delight. The welcome was a huge smile from the security guard – very un-Parisian. The prominent space on arrival is the collection point for the click and collect goods. Evidently this is a new generation omnichannel store. The gondolas were beautiful, airy and the signage was clear. The connected objects range was not as great as Darty but the store makes you want to shop and find someone to explain. Even as we left, the cashiers smiled at us. Boulanger has brought the warmth of the North of France to Paris and that is an unforgettable plus 9/10

On this visit I did not go to Lick, another specialist store for connected objects which we have covered previously in our Paris visits. The news is that Lick is extending its reach through a recent link-up with BHV to bring the flair of connected objects to this rather old-fashioned department store. I also saw the flagship Publicis store on the Champs Elysées which has introduced a connected objects offering (placed between champagne and wine on one side, and perfume on the other). I am not sure that they will get much traction from this as the selection of products was small and eclectic, but the overall conclusion is that the French are experimenting with tech retail, and for that I give Paris 10/10 – allez les bleus!

 

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Virtual Rome wasn’t built in a day

Guest blog by Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

I was delighted to present with CONTEXT at the Berlin IFA+ Summit. My own work with digital visualisation and 3D modelling in higher education sits very well alongside CONTEXT’s work surveying the amazing possibilities that Virtual Reality is now opening up. I work at the University of Reading, where I have built a large detailed 3D model of ancient Rome. I use this to generate still and animated images of the city, and also teach my students how to make their own digital reconstructions. Recently I have started using VR in my teaching and public work, turning my digital models into immersive, walk-around experiences. Stepping into these spaces in VR, no matter how well I think I know them, is a truly transformative, engaging experience.

romevirtual

Having to peer around physically, viewing the buildings in proper 3D, makes their scale and splendour much more intuitively visible than viewing them in more traditional 2D illustrations, and opens up the possibility of ‘stepping back into the past’. The potential for engaging students, as both users and creators of this sort of content, is terrific. It seems that the public agrees: I was very interested to see that the recreation of historical events scored highly in CONTEXT’s survey of what sorts of VR experiences are particularly appealing to potential users.

When not presenting, I explored the enormous IFA fair. The VR displays, naturally, were particularly interesting. Here the global market for gaming is the big driving force, enabling huge investments in hardware and software that will also benefit educational users like me. Oculus’ tour bus offered a sample of games and experiences in their Rift headset, including being chased by a T-Rex in a deserted museum, and playing a vertigo-inducing realistic rock-climbing game. Samsung’s lavish exhibit combined headset displays (using their Gear) with motion experiences, including a roller coaster and kayak ride (both using hydraulically-actuated seats), and a bungee jump into a virtual volcano.

Combining real-world motion with virtual graphics has potential for gaming, and also for fairground-style rides like these. It helps overcome two problems long associated with VR – that moving around in a virtual world without real-world physical movement can be disorientating or uncomfortable, and that VR can be perceived as an anti-social sort of activity. I enjoyed all of these ‘rides’; although the amount of physical movement involved was naturally smaller than the huge rollercoaster or bungee arcs suggested by the VR graphics, it seemed to be just enough to fool the body into accepting what the headset was showing.

ride

And of course it had a very high novelty fun factor; as these things become more common, it will be interesting to see what seasoned gamers come to expect in a genuinely thrilling experience. I wonder whether augmented reality, blending digital and real world elements (including other players), will eventually open up more convincing or exciting realms of experience than pure VR.

Elsewhere in the fair VR really seemed to have come of age, and was incorporated into various CONTEXTs – in gaming, naturally, and also in (for example) headsets for drones. Drones are now cheap enough, and easy enough to fly, that they are becoming accessible to non-specialists. I can foresee archaeological uses, for example; drones are already being used in some digs for aerial exploration and also the harvesting of images for photogrammetric site surveying and reconstruction. Feeding real time stereoscopic imagery from a drone into a VR headset would provide a really immersive, exciting vista to the pilot (who would need somewhere safe and secluded to stand while flying it!).

As a university academic in ancient history, this was a very different conference to the sort I usually attend, and very enriching. It’s clear that as the accessibility of VR and 3D continues to increase, both in terms of falling prices and ease of use by non-specialists, the potential for educational uses in many subjects is going to be enormous; it’s exciting to be part of it at the outset.

 

 

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VR Insights – IFA 2016

On Monday the 5th of September 2016 we invited customers and partners to an evening of Virtual Reality. The event was hosted in cooperation with Oculus which presented its final consumer version of the Rift VR headset, soon to go on sale at select retailers across the EU.

CONTEXT revealed key findings of the latest European-wide Virtual Reality consumer survey which was conducted in conjunction with VR Research Group partners such as AMD, Dell, and of course, Oculus. To kick things off, Jonathan Wagstaff UK Country Manager talked through some of the unrealised potential applications in the B2B environment such as breakthrough medical treatments and future video-conferencing technologies.

aman

Amanuel Dag, DACH Manager at CONTEXT welcomes guests

Ferhan Özkan from Crytek gave the audience a glimpse into their survey conducted at international universities on the adoption rate of Virtual Reality headsets and supporting hardware. One of the main findings was that such institutions are a big potential market since there are currently only 1,5 headsets on average in use per university.

CONTEXT as well as Crytek were positive about future developments and both had no doubt that VR technology has the ability to influence our daily life in more ways than just immersive entertainment.

The next presenter was Dr Matthew Nicholls who showcased his fully rendered recreation of Virtual Rome as it was in ancient time. It took him six years of hard work (Rome wasn’t built in a day!) to produce an astonishing detailed model of ancient Rome. With VR technology it is possible now to have a walk-through the Forum during the time of Caesar, something that brings history to life like no other teaching tool.

Adam Simon, Global Managing Director of Retail at CONTEXT wrapped up the evening with key highlights of the CONTEXT European-wide VR survey. One important discovery was that users in general thought that the overall costs are still too high for premium VR headsets to become a mass market product; it was not just the price of the 500-600 EUR VR headsets that was highlighted but also the price to upgrade a desktop PC which needs to be considered.

The evening ended in the wonderful Bocca di Bacco restaurant where the audience had the opportunity to share their own VR experience thanks to the availability of an Oculus Rift kit.

by AD

 

 

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How Virtual Reality can provide the perfect test-case for a retailer omnichannel strategy

The evolution of online retail has happened quickly. By the mid-1990s, shoppers were told that they could order a product in ‘just a few clicks’. Then with the smartphone revolution introducing the app, it became ‘just a few taps’. Now Amazon’s Echo can place Prime orders for you with ‘just a few words’.

The trouble is that very few retailers have had the time to evolve at the same pace of the digital world. The dots of the traditional store and online often remain unconnected.

Why a move towards ominchannel makes sense

This is where omnichannel fits in. For those not yet familiar with the term, it’s about retailers focusing on how the customer shops, and how the shopping experience is from their point of view.

The modern shopper’s path to purchase isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be, and shoppers value retailers that cater to both digital and physical. This means retailers need to think about how their customers research, try out, buy, return and talk about products.

How is an omnichannel strategy different to a multichannel strategy?

A multichannel retailer is one that has both online and physical stores. Many retailers, whether small-scale or household names, are multichannel retailers.

However, omnichannel goes far beyond the channels of how a customer can buy a product. It is about making entire process as seamless as possible, understanding that customers likely start online, visit a store, and increasingly want to click & collect to a destination of their choice. The customer now sets the terms, and retailers have to adapt. This means being much more joined up in how inventory is managed, evolving customer interaction across Web, social and email, and ultimately treating each customer in a more personal fashion.

So how does VR come into it?

Virtual Reality is one of this year’s breakout products. High-end headsets from Oculus and HTC are on the market to critical acclaim, Sony is launching one for PlayStation in October, and Samsung has a popular version called Gear VR which uses their Galaxy smartphones.

The interesting thing about this technology is that it is an entirely experiential product. Until you try it out, you just cannot understand how effective it is. And as it is so new, people are extra eager to see it for themselves.

Our latest research into VR revealed that that nearly four in five people would value a demo opportunity when deciding where to buy a headset, and over half would seek expert advice. A retailer that created a dedicated area to let shoppers experience VR could not only drive greater footfall to stores, but also increase cross-selling opportunities for other products.

This ability to offer consumers the chance to try out the tech that they’ve heard so much about—and three quarters of European consumers already know about VR—is a crucial advantage over ecommerce only stores.

VR presents a perfect opportunity for shrewd retailers to pair this immersive in-store experience with online content that shows them more about its possibilities. The riddle for retailers, as ever, will be to stop customers from using the store as merely a place to browse, and going elsewhere online to complete their purchase.

This is where an omnichannel strategy comes to the fore, by forcing retailers think about what customers value. Our research showed that post-sales support for VR is valued by almost half of those surveyed, home installation by four in ten. Additional services like these, can be combined with social engagement initiatives—such as asking customers to tweet or share Instagram pics of them using their VR kit—to keep the retailer relevant to the customer. Retailers can also promote in-store exclusives, and develop an online click and collect model that takes VR from being just another commodity product.

Developing an omnichannel strategy is difficult, and requires investment and a mind-set change for some retailers. However, not focusing on the customer experience and standing still is no longer an option. New challenger brands, unencumbered by legacy processes, are running with the idea of omnichannel already. Virtual Reality, because it sits at the intersection of digital and physical, is ideally suited for those retailers looking to evolve how they engage with customers.

by AS

 

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3D Printing as a Marketing Tool

In a modern, fast-paced world, people typically spend only a few seconds to decide whether or not they are interested in a product. Marketing executives have the difficult task of finding ways to attract the attention of potential customers. In today’s highly saturated media environment it is really hard to get noticed. So is there a magic pill? Maybe!

The general public is hungry for sensation; it is drawn to anything out of the ordinary. I hope you agree when I say that 3D printing fits this profile perfectly. Anything published on this subject is met with huge interest. At the same time, the 3D-printing community reacts at lightning speed to any new product on the market, be it a movie or a game. Here is fertile soil in which to plant promotional seeds.

Social media works perfectly for everyone,- you don’t have to be connected to 3D printing at all, and still use it to stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, an unknown 3D designer or ‘maker’ can publish his or her creation on a social site and become known to a much wider audience.

The new Pokémon Go game provides a number of great examples. While it was still only available in the US, 3D-printing enthusiasts around the world created dozens of miniature Pokémons. And who wouldn’t want to hold a cute little Pokémon in their hands after catching its virtual twin?

Pikachu

Pikachu caught in the park

 

One designer came up with a 3D-printed phone cover with a targeting tool for catching Pokémons and became a mini-celebrity. Initially, his profile on myminifactory.com had about 10,000 views. When someone liked his design idea and placed a picture on Twitter, the previously unknown designer accumulated nearly 75,000 views within 2 days! By the end of that week about 180,000 people visited his page on the 3D-printing community website. For this type of niche community it is a huge success.

So has anyone thought of using 3D printing as a clever marketing tool? Doing so raises the question of who promotes whom: those in the 3D-printing community who make innovative designs can become the talk of the town, while the producer of a new product who places a 3D-printed replica on a popular social site stands to increase sales. Both sides reap the benefits.

by NF

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Filed under 3D Printing, Connectivity, Imaging, virtual reality

Virtually Yours

Since the launch of the major consumer head-mounted displays earlier this year, very little research has been conducted into what the general public and gamers think about VR and what sort of intentions to purchase they might have. We’ve all read time and time again that VR is going to forever change entertainment, and make Oculus Rift’s Palmer Luckey truly live up to his name as the world’s most fortunate man. But are we getting ahead of ourselves?

In an attempt to shine some light on what consumers are actually thinking, we at CONTEXT teamed up with Oculus, AMD, Dell, and others to form a VR Research Group, commissioning surveys to take the pulse of Joe Public, as well as dedicated gamers.

VR who?
The first bit of good news is that at least three in four consumers in the UK have heard of VR. Those surveyed were most familiar with Google Cardboard, with half claiming to have experienced it already. Basic form-factors such as the Cardboard appeal most to consumers, with 43% stating the untethered headset paired with a smartphone would be the format they would be most likely to use.

Those in the UK certainly do not see VR as a gimmick, with over half of the British public (56%) agreeing that VR has serious applications in fields such as medicine, science, and education. Awareness aside, there is still a lot more education which needs to happen to boost adoption, with 78% agreeing that they do not understand enough about VR products.

I want a go!
Seeing the technology in action is the most important factor to consumers, even overtaking price at 68%: of those sampled, 79% consider a demo opportunity an important motivator in deciding where to buy. This is where VR could potentially play into the hands of high-street retailers. Interestingly, Amazon did not come on top of target shopping destinations. A third of consumers chose a large specialist technology retailer as their preferred VR shopping location, compared to Amazon’s 18%.

How much?
Consumers are excited by the potential of VR, but convincing them to invest in the technology is still a considerable challenge. When asked how much they would be willing to spend on their first VR headset, consumers showed hesitancy in parting with substantial sums. 37% would prefer (unsurprisingly) to pay nothing for the headset, whilst 21% would only be willing to pay under £100. Moreover, the research shows that 8% of the general public and 26% of gamers are willing spend the £500 necessary to buy a high-quality VR headset.

I believe I can fly!
In terms of applications, consumers in the UK and around Europe are most excited about watching sport, film and TV in VR. Half of those surveyed in the UK (51%) would relish the opportunity to experience something they would never do in real life, such as sky diving. As you might expect, for VR game genres sports came top for the general public, as well as dedicated gamers in the UK.

But what did come as a surprise was the popularity of space and flight simulations. Taking a European average, flying and space simulators was the genre of VR game that most excited gamers. Elite Dangerous supports head-mounted displays on PC, and on mobile platforms games like Vanguard are showcasing the potential for these kinds of games for mobile VR.

The emerging VR market needs to be tracked very carefully and public perception will no doubt evolve fast. Pokémon GO’s rocketing success throws an augmented reality (AR) spanner in the works, and head-mounted displays are now being adapted to respond to this new market. Many in the industry are looking ahead to the launch of Sony’s PS VR as the real test for mass-market VR adoption, and we at CONTEXT will be watching the 2016 Christmas market very closely.

by JW

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Channel to Print Vendors: Clearer labeling is needed!

According to the latest CONTEXT ChannelWatch, European channel players believe print manufacturers could do “a lot more” to stop counterfeit toner cartridges flooding the market.

The call to action for vendors to label their products better comes from over 2,000 business owners and senior managers at key channel businesses across Western Europe. The in-depth report is compiled from interviews with these organisations including resellers, vendors, retailers and distributors.

When asked who they thought could do the most to stop the growing problem of illegal printer consumables in the region, a clear majority (55%) claimed print vendors could do “a lot more”, although a significant minority claimed the channel (37%) and government (35%) could do the same.

When it came to government, however, a large number of respondents (30%) claimed they “don’t know” what role it should take.

The problem as the channel sees it lies in the packaging of illegal toner cartridges.

Over half (58%) of resellers told us it would be easy for them to spot counterfeits, but just 15% of them said they thought it would be simple for their customers.

Clearly labelled packaging (73%) for re-manufactured and legal compatibles was called out as the best solution to the counterfeit problem amongst other suggestions.

Some major print vendors are taking the initiative, raising public awareness, training channel partners, monitoring sales via distribution channels, and most importantly – seizing counterfeit goods and taking their manufacturers and resellers to court.

HP Inc. seized more than 12 million items and enforced over 1800 actions across EMEA between 2011 and 2015, while Kyocera seized €10m worth of counterfeit goods in FY 2015. But between just April and May this year Kyocera reported the capture of goods worth over €5m – an indication of the escalating scale of the problem.

Some vendors have also responded with secure holographic seals, serial numbers and other innovative features to help distinguish genuine from counterfeit products.

The new ChannelWatch report from CONTEXT covers this and other key channel trends in detail, shining an important light on what resellers from the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Italy really think. To request a copy of the report or to speak to someone, please contact tgibbons@contextworld.com.

by TG

 

 

 

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