Robo-Shop coming to a shopping centre near you

While I like to think I’m ahead of the digital curve, nothing could prepare me for a recent visit to Silicon Valley as part of the STW Group’s knowledge finding trip. I was ready for my mind to be opened. But I wasn’t ready for it to be blown, and it well and truly was.

The first person I met at Westfield Labs, wasn’t there and wasn’t really a person. Well she was but not in the physical sense. Confused? A little worried? You should be. A ‘robot’ welcomed me. The robot was actually a real lady sitting in an office somewhere in California. I could see her face, I could chat to her - she explained about what she did, how the technology worked and followed me around the mall. Look out for a robot greeter coming to a store near you soon.

This was just the start. Westfield Labs are the technology incubator for Westfield shopping centres around the world. They are leading the way in merging the digital and physical retail environments.

As consumers we don’t make any distinction between shopping online or driving to the bricks and mortars shopping centre – it’s all just shopping. So it makes sense that there are almost as many bricks and mortar brands going online as there are now online brands trying to move into bricks and mortar.

Today, people’s shopping decisions are made long before they go into a store. Westfield looks at the shopper journey and integrates technology and the physical environment at every stage. They have developed searchable malls, so people can order what they want to buy then pick it up when they visit. They’re also ‘Uberfying’ the delivery process by crowdsourcing it to bring the price down to as low as $5USD per item, which could be another nail in Australia Post’s coffin.

Next onto Google - yes they are taking over the world, but not just the digital world, our physical world as well.

Ingress is an augmented reality, massively multiplayer, online role playing GPS-dependent game created by Niantic Labs, a start-up within Google. The game has a complex science fiction back story with a continuous open narrative. It’s a social phenomenon with 4.3 million fans, 2.5 million social page views and interactions every week and a total of 9 million installs.

There are two factions that players can join – ‘The Enlightened’ and ‘The Resistance’. Once you choose one, it’s almost impossible to switch sides. The game has attracted a fanatical following in cities around the world, amongst both young and old, to the extent that the gameplay is a lifestyle for some, including tattoos!

The gameplay consists of establishing ‘portals’ at places such as public art, landmarks and monuments and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. The necessary links between portals range from metres to kilometres or hundreds of kilometres and can cross geographical boundaries.

So what’s this got to do with us marketers? The opportunities for selling to and influencing people within the game are just starting to become available.

Surprisingly AXA, one of the world’s largest insurance companies is the first but rather unlikely, commercial partner. Not necessarily renowned for leading the charge in marketing innovation it has developed the most ‘defensive’ position in the Ingress game which emphasises its brand values and product offering.

This dissolving of the line between the physical and digital environments is exciting but also complex for marketers because of the proliferation of channels that you can use to influence consumers along this journey – the web, ads, mobile, social promotions, content, retailer, loyalty and word of mouth. For us in the communications world, that‘s the challenge we’re embracing, before we’re all replaced by robots.