While walking the floor of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City this week, one of the last conversations I expected to have with anyone was about the future of retail. The main hall of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was littered with mind bending installations, from incredible lighting structures, to abstract pieces of furniture, alongside some unique TV mounting systems, handmade crafts, art, and much more.
But tucked away in the corner of the floor reserved for universities was the Appalachian State University booth, which had a large piece of signage attached to it that read “Future of Retail.” If their intention was to speak directly to the editor of a B2B publication that focuses on retail then, well, mission accomplished.
In talking with Michael Rall, an assistant professor of Industrial Design at the school, I learned that the booth was born out of the Future of Retail project at App State, which aims to revolutionize the traditional retail environment in a way that will enable brick and mortar retail to thrive in a digital first world. The project itself, Rall said, was developed as a result of some pretty innocent conversations about how our phones today gather information about us and drive our online shopping experience with targeted ads and the like. The program is a collaboration involving the Apparel Design & Merchandising, Industrial Design, and Interior Design programs at Appalachian State.
The Future of Retail (FoR) project aims to merge the online shopping experience with the physical world by creating stores and retail installations that are truly customizable and personalized to the shopper. Their booth at ICFF, which was designed to resemble a mini retail pop up shop, displayed how something as simple as lighting could be used to highlight specific product in the store to offer personalized recommendations to the shopper based on their interests and other demographic and personal information. Other ways that the store could morph itself, Rall said, include actual moving displays, scents in the store, and other emotional stimulants.
At first, Rall said the concept would likely be applied to pop up-type stores and brand-specific locations. Though, the project is designed with the idea of being able to scale to much larger applications, including big box retail.
At the end of the day, Rall said, the FoR project is an effort to create highly personalized shopping experiences for the consumer, much the same way online shopping is already doing just that. And it goes to show that even the youth today understands the importance of brick and mortar retail—to the point that they’re even willing to dedicate their time researching ways to improve and save it.