An invitation from The Future Laboratory is always worth taking up. The future-forecasting think tank is known for its innovative events and trend predicting insights and the latest one promised to give a glimpse into the future of retail.
Having had access to my online profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, The Future Laboratory set up an appointment for me at its pop-up Sweet Shoppe – all theatrical velvet curtains and Willy Wonka-ish vibes. The aim? A curated personal journey to source the perfect sweet.
On arrival through a hidden door, I was greeted by the ‘shop assistant’, who immediately sat me down and offered me a drinks menu. From an extensive list, including tap water, champagne and builder’s tea, I chose ginger beer, which was duly noted (along with all my subsequent choices) by a white-coated fellow lurking in the background. I was then asked to choose one of three boxes of seemingly random objects (sample items: a horn comb, a bar of soap in old fashioned packaging, a plastic birdishaped ring). While umming and ahhing, the assistant made small talk; “Do you still see still Caroline Baker?” I wasn’t expecting to chat about my old boss (who as it happens, I do ‘talk’ to quite often on Twitter) so was a bit thrown by this personal reference but soon understood this will be part of the future, tailor-made consumer experience.
The weirdest part came next when I was asked if I had any allergies (no) and then asked to choose a pill from one of three different shaped glasses. Again, all choices were documented to provide clues to my consumer preferences. I chose a pill and swallowed it, while being told I would feel my heart rate quicken as the pill took effect and that my pupil dilation might also be monitored. Jeez, what kind of pills were these? I was then led through a curtain into a lush, colour-saturated garden and for a second I really did feel quite trippy! But not being the gardening type, instead of exploring the plants, I gravitated towards a table of books. After a few moments of flicking through – ahem – Enid Blyton, I was led to another room, this time a lab of food samples. Here I was to choose the ingredients of my sweet by tasting a number of different flavours that all signified something different. Again, the assistant talked me through in a personable and personal manner while the notetaker continued to tick boxes on his clipboard.
Selection process over, I was led up a flight of stairs to meet the ‘shopkeeper.’ Here she gave me my bespoke confectionery – a raspberry sherbet dip with accompanying lolly. In a box-like room I was faced with a projection of myself on a screen while my assessment was read out to me over a loudspeaker. My choices suggested ‘a nostalgic consumer who appreciates heritage and respect for the past’. My character was ‘analytical – for you facts come first’, and my mindset was ‘indulgent – you’re busy but you appreciate the finer things in life and you give yourself treats because you deserve them.’ (Um, yes, yes and yes.)
What I took away with me, along with my lolly and bag of raspberry sherbet is that the future won’t be about ‘brick versus clicks’ but a seamless merging of online and offline behaviours. So yes, retailers might research a customer’s online profile to find out more about them, but the personal touch and human interaction will be just as important as ever. With curation sites (hello Tumblr, Pinterest, Lyst) gaining more attention by the day, it’s easy for brands to research their customers’ preferences, and – if all goes to plan – deliver a tailor-made experience that ticks all their boxes.