We hear so much these days about brick-and-mortar retailers seeking to emulate the model of online merchants, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Take Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which literally invented an online shopping holiday—Singles’ Day—to capitalize on holiday shopping bonanzas like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
To gin up excitement ahead of this year’s Singles’ Day, Alibaba opened more than 1,000 pop-up stores across China, each kitted out with the latest and greatest technology as a futuristic showcase for its products.
Supercharging the In-Store Experience
The shops are meant to be a feast for the senses, and encourage a high level of customer interactivity. They leverage cutting-edge retail technologies like augmented reality, QR codes and voice-controlled smart home technology, and even include some products that aren’t available in the mass market yet, like a smart tea table that can tell when a plant placed atop it needs to be watered.
Forbes recently visited one such pop-up shop in Beijing’s trendy, upscale Sanlitun area, which was divided into sections like a home, with a kitchen, bedroom, study, living room and even a bathroom. Each room contains connected devices that are either voice activated or mobile device controllable, and products on display can be scanned by phone to direct a shopper straight to Alibaba’s online store.
Alibaba Tmall Store
First Tmall Store
Retail’s Future: Voice Activated Devices and Advanced Data Collection
Part of Alibaba’s vision for the future involves heavy reliance on voice-controlled smart devices, like its Echo smart speaker competitor, the Tmall Genie, which were placed throughout the simulated home. The device can change television channels, play music, and even be used to pay bills, all by voice.
Another big play for Alibaba is intelligently utilizing shopper data, which the company collects copious amounts of through both its digital stores pop-up shops like these. Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang told Forbes that he envisions a shopping landscape where retailers know their customers’ preferences so accurately that smartphone apps and even store shelves can recommend appropriate products which can then be delivered to customers’ doorsteps in as little as half an hour, eliminating the need for shoppers to carry bags as they move from store to store.
This so-called “New Retail” model pioneered by Alibaba seeks to seamlessly blend online and offline shopping to bring together the best of both. Alibaba has also been involved in Shanghai supermarket chain Hema, which the company holds up as a quintessential example of the New Retail concept. Hema gives customers the choice to shop at home via app, or visit stores and have their purchases prepared on site or delivered to their homes.
It’s interesting to see companies whose stores “live” online manifest in the real world, and Alibaba’s Singles’ Day stunt offers a telling glimpse into a massive online-only retailer’s take on brick-and-mortar stores.