Interactive mirrors, augmented reality, 3D-printing – it’s only logical that recently held Paris Retail Week expo played host to many high tech novelties. But technological gadgetry isn’t limited to the expo centre at Porte de Versailles. A quick tour of Paris’ most innovative shops makes it crystal clear: Technology has become a definitive staple of high-street retail. Well, nearly anyway.
Following the reopening of Les Halles earlier this year, the shopping mall’s new roof has been a particular and frequent point of discussion. Intended to be a pinnacle of modern architecture, it’s more frequently laughed off as looking like a sickly yellow awning. Restaurant ZA, which opened its doors around the same time as Les Halles, received far less attention – wrongly so, as soon becomes evident from a visit during the Paris Retail Week shopping tour.
The restaurant, located in Paris’ famous halls, is filled to the brim with technological marvels. The first innovation is found soon after entering: Clients need to place their mobile phones on the table if they want to place an order. Smartphones connect to the restaurant’s kitchen via Bluetooth once their owners have installed a required app. This app is then used to browse the menu, view descriptions and ingredients, and eventually place an order. Clients can pay by entering their credit card data – information stored by the app to make paying the bill at your next visit proceed even more quickly.
But that’s not the only way technology has been employed at ZA. Whenever a dish is ready to be served, the staff places the plate on a conveyor belt which, courtesy of sensors under the individual tables, stops exactly in front of the right patron. And once an order has been placed, clients can also use their phone to browse a selection of up to 2,000 different books which can be printed out on-site – thanks to a collaboration with Orséry. The printers belonging to this French start-up company are able to spit out a complete book every five minutes.
Two doors down, visitors to Les Halles encounter a different digital environment in the form of online luxury retailer L’Exception, also open since April. This five year old retail company has equipped its flagship store with, among other things, a large selection of tablets and big screen monitors – bringing L’Exception’s full collection of wares to the shopping public. The tablets, which can easily be moved around the store thanks to a great number of electrical outlets, may be used by clients to find whatever item of clothing they’re looking for. The screens functionality is supported by in-store personnel – staff members can also use microphones to verbally communicate a search to the system. Once shoppers have stepped into one of the changing rooms, they can use the screens located there to indicate whether they need an article in a different size or colour. Staff is then alerted to this request through an app on their ‘store phone’.
There are a few hitches when it comes to using this technology, admits founder Régis Pennel. One particular hiccup is the fact that consumers are having difficulty adjusting to the idea of the screens in the changing rooms. These screens also enable customers to send the contents of their shopping basket to their email, or take a picture for use in social media. And that, says Kate Spade top executive Philip Rosenzweig, is exactly where retail is headed. Sure, there are consumers who like to visit a store, have a browse through the racks, and try on new clothes by themselves before, potentially, paying for them at the till. “But that is the way of the past”, says the vice president of real estate, store design, and construction. “Young people, the consumers of the future, don’t put any stock in a sales employee’s opinion; they want to know what their friends think. Whether it’s via Snapchat or Instagram: They like showing off pictures of themselves in a new outfit. To them, it doesn’t matter whether they buy their clothes in-store or somewhere else, at a later time. They haven’t compartmentalised their world into home, school, work, and store; wherever they are, their phones ensure they are always connected, always online.”
That’s probably one of the reasons Adidas has turned its flagship store on the Champs Élysées from a ‘supermarket’ into something more focussed on the idea of the customer experience. Store manager Stéphane Le Jan explains how the sports retailer cut down on store furnishings in order to create more room to more.
Seven huge screens display the latest Adidas campaign while, at the same time, customers are asked for their opinion about the store using large tablet PCs to help the company measure its NPS ratings. In addition, the football section has been equipped with a monitor that visitors can use to explore the production process behind every shoe. Sales staff can then check whether the desired shoes are in stock – and, based on the size of the store, there’s every chance of that being the case. And even if it isn’t, then any product can still be picked up from the special click & collect-counter within two days. Or in four weeks, should the buyer choose to personalise their new shoes using the My Adidas-program.
Another major retailer to recently update their store on the most famous street in Paris is McDonald’s. No more walking up to the counter for a Big Mac; the fast-food chain has placed a massive number of screens near the entrance – screens that clients can use to place their orders.
What’s more unusual is the box of cards hanging from each screen: These cards are used by clients who want to have their order delivered to their table. As part of the payment process, a card is scanned and then placed on the table. Using geolocation, McDonald’s staff then find their way to the right table.
Yves Rocher, on the other hand, has had it with all of this technological gimmickry. Although their flagship store on the Champs Élysées has recently been renewed, there hasn’t been an influx of tablets or similar applied technology – in fact, it’s the opposite. Yves Rocher’s new concept is best described as a ‘botanical beauty lab’, combining the world of science and the world of nature. The storefront, for example, has been dyed green using real moss, and the samples found inside have been packaged as test-tubes. Staff members are equipped with lab coats instead of iPads. Director of merchandising and store concept Geraldine Guillemot explains why: “They simply didn’t work. Our clients barely used them, so we’ve quit using them altogether. We’re now focussing on one-on-one communications with quality sales staff. We are returning to the idea of the human touch”.