STEPPING into the trade exhibition space at LiFung Plaza in Shanghai, China is almost like being transported to a large retail laboratory of the future.
Here in this experimental oasis are virtual reality fitting rooms, magic mirrors that bring images to life and 3D printing that can create customised objects. It is a place set up by the Fung Group in partnership with IBM and brand activation company Pico to test a myriad of high-tech concepts that may well change the future of retail.
Fung Group is the Hong Kong-based multinational group with international brands and retail operations across China, and parent of sourcing giant Li & Fung.
Named ‘Explorium’, the 23,000sqm laboratory offers a controlled setting for businesses to observe and explore in real time how consumers interact with new technologies, products and environments.
Retailers can use consumer feedback that is collected and analysed at Explorium to better understand the opportunities for their products and services in China. They can also use the lab to test different store concepts.
Said Fung Group’s chairman, Dr Victor K Fung: “Everything we thought we knew about how consumers decide upon what they buy, where they buy, when they buy, how they buy and how they pay is changing.
“Technology is the catalyst empowering consumers. The Internet and mobile communications are distrupting the way consumers behave and, in so doing, providing unique opportunities for retailing to come up with new business models.
“Nowhere is this more evident than in China, one of the world’s most exciting, challenging retail markets.”
Fung added that the future for retail in China and globally will be in omnichannel — online-to-offline (O2O) or a combination of ‘bricks and clicks’.
“Chinese consumers are setting shopping trends globally, especially with their avid use of social media, and Shanghai is home, arguably, to China’s most vibrant, tech-savvy consumers. That is why we chose Shanghai as the launch pad for this major Fung Group initiative,” Fung said.
Simeon Piasecki, Explorium’s Shanghai-based director, described it as a laboratory for rapidly testing omnichannel business strategies in a realistic environment.
“Explorium’s priority in coming months is to design, build, run and measure a greater number and variety of experiments to produce a pool of data that will enable participating brands and retailers to obtain unique insights for their individual businesses,” Piasecki said.
While children’s products, such as toys, are a special focus in Explorium’s first phase, there are plans to also feature women’s and men’s apparel.
IBM is also gathering data from the lab and analysing it to help retailers “deliver personalised, relevant marketing interactions to consumers in real time, delighting them, and differentiating the retailer from the competition”.
Consumers can opt-in to receive offers and rewards from their favourite brands via social media and their mobile devices, all tailored to their location and unique preferences.
To date, Explorium — which is membership based — has close to 12,000 active participants registered from among employees and family members of the Fung Group, IBM and Pico. Members typically spend over three hours per visit there.