THE HEAT IS ON

This week’s [retail bytes] investigates: How are the most innovative retailers (and underground transport!) coping with the hot weather?

 Air-con dreaming: During a summer heatwave, the only retail tech that matters is the sheer blast power of your air-con systems. Smart department stores like John Lewis and Harvey Nichols in London, deBijenkorf’s top floor restaurant in Amsterdam (in Dutch), or El Corte Ingles in Madrid have the edge with their beautiful roof terraces. They offer amazing sights of city rooftops and delicious food to go with it but, first and foremost, they all have turbo-charged cool air flow. Not so good at Liberty (London), where the department store’s temperature is practically sub-zero (bring a scarf, or maybe they want you to buy one?) but the café could be mistaken for a sauna (and there’s no great rooftop view either). We advise re-thinking the ambience or losing customers to competitors who show more emotional intelligence and offer perfect temperatures, a great range of products, inspiring views and wonderful food.

Subway wi-fi takes over NYC: The current heatwave has exposed the poor state of preparedness of the underground in European cities, as the moans of overheated travellers echoed widely from Moscow to Madrid. In our quick poll of metropolitan transport colleagues across Europe, only the Athens metro has scored the perfect 10 on air-con and freshness in the trains, with Barcelona coming a close second. However, none have the power of what the New York subway is preparing – Wi-Fi and USB ports built-in. The focus is on providing facilities to work on the underground – however, we know that what matters to the discerning crowd is being able to access online shops and use commuting time to stock up on your Asos/Net-a-Porter latest collections. Good thinking New York.

Where have all the warehouses gone? 25% of UK consumers have named Amazon as their favourite brand, with John Lewis second and Marks & Spencer third. The ruthless progress of e-com tech favours no-store approaches and is visible in people’s choices, as the wide range and convenience of online shopping beats even the most inventive retail theatre. As Amazon picks up new warehouses around cities to provide the convenience of same-day delivery, the battle for the future consumer will be fought in the trenches of planning permissions due to incredibly fast-shrinking commercial real estate around London and key European cities. More demand from residential building plans and office blocks means warehouses are becoming scarce. Get what’s left, as first-come first-serve rules in the vicious business of e-com logistics.

VR pods come to the rescue: To fight back against Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers are turning to the new kid on the block – Virtual Reality. Having being primarily aimed at gamers until now, VR is emerging as a fun activity on offer in shopping malls. HubVR (a joint venture between Belarusian and Israeli start-ups) is taking their fully immersive, adult-size VR pods on tour in major European cities, followed closely by Virtuix and Imax in LA stores. The offer is simple – 3-4 minutes of a rollercoaster ride, exploring a dino park or falling off a cliff, exploring Mars in a shaky space buggy or ducking zombies is worth $5… And you can forget about the real world. It works.

Are Pokèmon Go cafès the new Cybercafès? Not to be outdone, AR (Augmented Reality) is kicking VR where it hurts, as the Pokémon Go mobile AR game launched on the 6th of July and is already more popular than Tinder. People are hunting Pikachu and Bulbasaur in parks and high streets, with the game makers promising to bring ‘sponsored locations’ for retailers to advertise on shortly. The first café business to catch a few Pokémon-hunting millennials was Huge Café in Atlanta, which set up a ‘lure’ outside to entice the Pokémon hunters, offering them refreshment and a short relief from the hunt. The best thing about Pokémon Go? Unlike nearly everything else we do online, none of it is owned by Mark Zuckerberg.

 Upcoming events: Björk in London! Post-Brexit, Iceland is apparently the UK’s new North Atlantic trading partner. We are also gearing up to welcome Björk, the country’s second most famous ambassador (after the football team!), to the UK in September, with a mix of VR and an immersive two-screen film showing at Somerset House, plus a one-off gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Book now to see what the ever-so-experimental tech pioneer makes of VR as a medium. Don’t miss it.