With dramatic displays of augmented reality, 3D printing and immersive experiences, the first mega event in the Arab world is a harbinger of the technologies that could transform the future of retailing.
Dubai’s Expo 2020 marked the global exhibition’s debut in the Middle East, and the first mega event staged in the Arab World. From 1 October 2021 through to 31 March 2022 – postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the event showcased the best in class from 192 countries under the banner “Connecting Minds and Creating the Future”.
Although Expo 2020 is not a consumer-focused event, many of the innovations put forth can be used in creating an unforgettable customer shopping experience that will allow retailers to further engage, and retain, their customers. This article examines the event through the lens of Euromonitor International’s megatrend, Shopping Reinvented.
At its core, Shopping Reinvented is about converting a transaction into an ongoing relationship between consumer and retailer. Retailers can look to the technologies and innovations showcased at Expo 2020 for inspiration on ways to breathe new life into their brands and stores.
Euromonitor International’s team of trend experts identified 20 megatrends shaping consumer markets, then predicted the eight trends currently having the most impact on transforming and disrupting entire categories
As part of Euromonitor International’s new tool to quantify the impact of megatrends on consumer purchasing power, by 2025, Shopping Reinvented is predicted to become the leading megatrend globally in terms of consumers’ propensity to spend.
Megatrends Size Based on Propensity of Consumers to Spend, World (USD), 2020/2025
Source: Euromonitor International Megatrends Model, 2020
As such, retailers will need to come up with inventive ways to attract potential consumers.
Blurring the lines between the physical and digital
To keep up with this changing landscape, store formats will continue to blur the physical and the digital, as more digital elements popular with consumers are incorporated. In fact, the primary purpose of the store may no longer be a place in which to buy products, but rather one where an experience takes centre stage. Expo 2020 provided some creative examples of how digital experiences can be adopted, reinventing the shopping experience.
A) Real-life immersion
Creating an experience that mimics a ‘real’ one is becoming increasingly popular. Brands can take inspiration from the Netherlands Pavilion, where visitors experience indoor rainfall and have digital images superimposed on umbrellas that visitors hold over their heads.
The France Pavilion provides an immersive experience of Notre-Dame’s 850-year-history through a tablet called Histopad. This is the first time France is exhibiting this technology, and visitors to the pavilion feel as though they are in Paris watching the reconstruction of the iconic Notre Dame cathedral. Equally, the Switzerland Pavilion features an immersive Alpine climbing experience that includes real fog and spectacular mountain views. Likewise, the Brazil Pavilion creates a simulated rainforest that replicates the sensation of being in the Amazon basin, replete with animal sounds and aromas.
B) Enhanced personalisation with 3D printing
While experiential retail will be a cornerstone of the future of shopping, it will not just be experience for experience sake, but will serve a larger purpose, that is the ability to create more personalised products that service consumers’ needs. Consumers have come to expect brands to tailor products and services to their preferences, and another trend, 3D printing, has the potential to give customers these more personalised products and experiences.
This can also be more cost-efficient, as 3D printing will help keep shipping costs down, facilitate local manufacturing, and serve as a hedge against supply chain disruptions. How grand 3D printing can become is demonstrated in the Italy Pavilion, where visitors are greeted by a gigantic 3D printing of Michelangelo.
C) Co-creation and interaction
In addition to product customisation, the stores of the future can become places where all parties co-create and then interact with that newly created environment. The Spain Pavilion showcases the interactive game ‘Forest of Intelligence’ to demonstrate the impact personal everyday choices have on the environment.
In addition, co-creation is taken to poetic heights at the UK pavilion, where its ‘Poetry by AI (Artificial Intelligence)’ system allows words from thousands of visitors to be used to create a ‘Collective Message’. Using an AI algorithm, these words are crafted into a couplet that is then projected onto the pavilion façade. For retailers, such AI usage can provide a means for companies to further increase brand engagement by allowing consumers to participate in the creative process.
A changing retail environment
It is fitting that Expo 2020 was hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a country that Euromonitor International predicts will climb two positions in per capita expenditure within the Shopping Reinvented megatrend and will rank third globally in this trend by 2025.
This is not surprising, as the country has a strong mall culture, and these new blended store formats aim to blur the shopping and digital experience. For example, at the end 2020 the country announced an investment of USD1.2 billion in the ‘mega mall of the future.’ The Reem Mall in Abu Dhabi is expected to become the world’s first fully-enabled offline-to-online high-tech shopping centre and will be a factor in assisting its growth.
As the technologies showcased at Expo 2020 become affordable and widely accessible, smart retailers will leverage these technologies to enhance the shopping experience and offer a more immersive store experience to ensure continued footfall amongst consumers. The store of the future will take a holistic approach to consumer-brand experiences, weaving in digital touchpoints and contextual overlays and other sensory information to draw consumers in.
For further insight, read our article, Megatrends: Quantifying Shopping Reinvented