4 ways Asia is supercharging retail with tech-enabled physical experiences

Alibaba and Ford's car vending machine

Alibaba and Ford’s car vending machine

Much has been said about the death of the store at the hands of the digital era, but retailers and brands with physical footprints are increasingly harnessing technology to instil a sense of connectivity and immersion in their spaces.

Front and center within that is the Asia market, which is setting the standard by responding to consumers’ avid connected behavior and facilitating increasingly digitized physical journeys that perfectly blend both realities.

Here, we highlight four of our favorite recent brand examples.

Ford and Alibaba’s unstaffed car vending machine

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with automaker Ford on a cat-shaped car vending machine in China that allows potential buyers the chance to try-before-they-buy. The structure, located in Guangzhou, is completely self-directed and available only to Alibaba’s Super Members, the highest tier of membership in the retailer’s program.

Once users go through a background check on the Alibaba app, they can select their preferred vehicle and head to one of the Super Test-Drive Centers. Arriving at the location, they can use either facial recognition or a login code to trigger the test-drive experience, which they can do for up to three days.

Starbucks’ augmented coffee mecca
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience

Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience

Starbucks meanwhile is focusing on augmented reality in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery, where the coffee brand tapped into the Chinese consumer’s mobile-first behavior by creating a digital scavenger hunt.

Available through Taobao, consumers have to scan a code in-store and then proceed to scan coffee machines and brewers around the store to trigger content. Doing so with such physical objects activates animations on the mobile screen, and then offers the user more information on the coffee making process, such as how specific machines roast the coffee.

By offering consumers more branded storytelling through mobile, the company aligns with its Reserve Roastery concept ethos, which is to act as a mecca on all things coffee-making, and serve avid customers accordingly.

Shiseido’s smart diagnosis and brand content mirrors
Shiseido's smart mirror

Shiseido’s smart mirror

Smart mirrors might not be anything new within the ‘tech in-store’ discussion, but at Shiseido’s recently opened flagship in the Ginza Six shopping complex in Tokyo, the connected device offers more granular and personalized content than we’ve seen before, including around diagnosis.

Customers visiting the store can have their picture taken by a smart mirror, which results in a skin analysis and step-by-step guidance on screen on how to apply a curation of products. Afterwards, users can scan a QR code generated on the screen to put their counselling data on their own phone.

Additional features in Shiseido’s tech-enabled store, include screens that change visuals whenever someone is within two meters of them, as well as smart tables that recognize when a specific product has been picked up, and generate information on a smart screen accordingly.

Jack & Jones and Vero Moda’s facial recognition payments
Jack & Jones

Jack & Jones

You can’t talk about Asia without mentioning WeChat, and in this instance the future of payments. Danish fashion brands Jack & Jones and Vero Moda, part of the Bestseller group, have recently opened smart stores in two Chinese locations that are powered by Tencent’s facial recognition technology, allowing customers to pay with their face.

Located in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the smart stores allow shoppers to shop without the need for cash or even their mobile phones. After completing the facial recognition registration at digital kiosks in-store, shoppers become members of the Tencent’s “AI Club”, which is powered by WeChat Pay. When checking out, they can then use the feature to complete the payment, which is debited through their WeChat wallets.

Beyond cashless (and mobile-less) payment capabilities, the entire store experiences can be automated. At the fitting room, the same technology is applied – once the shopper is recognized by a smart screen, they can receive recommendations based on past purchases.