Reimagining the future of retail. How can technology be leveraged to make a retail experience memorable and also meaningful?

Brainstorming, Research, UX Design, Extensive Prototyping 

Project team
Bernardo Project Lead
Joanna Narrative Strategy
Saman  Software Engineer

Publicis Groupe, in partnership with NYC Media Lab, challenged us to imagine retail experiences of the far and near future during a 7-week research project.

How can technology be leveraged to make a retail experience memorable and also meaningful? How can technology bring a sense of magic, expand the consumer’s perception, and bring to life the values of the brand in question? 



Concept & Demo

LAMA is an immersive in-store navigation system comprised of a mobile app and a complementing light installation. Using a shopping list provided by the user, LAMA uses a ceiling-installed light display to deliver a guided retail experience. The experience translates the benefits of online shopping for a physical space by providing customised point-of-sale opportunities to shoppers based on their locations within the store. 

Planning & Process

Because it was a 7-week research project and had to go from idea conception to a prototype within a relatively short period, our calendar was organized like this: 

  1. Foundation Phase, 2 weeks
  2. Opportunity Phase, 2 weeks
  3. Prototyping Phase, 4 weeks



During this phase, the goal was to broadly understand the terrain and generate theses for further exploration in the future of retail. Based on initial meetings with Publicis executives, we completed a series of design thinking sessions to generate potential themes to explore. In order to inform our thematic and conceptual development, each of us on the team brought in 4 - 8 examples of cool retail experiences to discuss how it worked and why it was interesting. We organised them into different clusters based on different themes. 

 Theme cluster #5

Theme cluster #5

 Other Theme Clusters

Other Theme Clusters


Research Insights

The following are the seven theme clusters that emerged from the initial brainstorm:

Customization and Personalization
How can the use of technology allow retailers to deliver an experience tailored to each customer? Something that talks to their identity or choices and is completely different than what other customers will experience?


Tangible experiences
Retail experiences are often about physical products. How can technology profit from the interaction with a product in store to give a moment of magic? Disrupting, for example, the ritual of trying on shoes or moving clothes from a hanger?

Social media and Crowdsourcing
How can we harvest the power of social media to augment an in-store experience? How can this information be built into aspects that are fundamental to such experience? How can we profit from such a concept and think about communications that are one-to-many, but also many-to-many and many-to-one?

Identity Expansion
How can technology bring in the proposed experience of a product into the retail experience? If a product sells glamour, how does the experience show glamour? If it sells adventure, how does it make you feel adventurous? If it sells power, how could you feel empowered for that moment?

Retail assistants and Companions
When do we need help shopping? When is it relevant for this help to not be human, but to perform tasks that are almost mechanical, yet personal? What is the ideal form/role of a virtual/robotic assistant? How do you build aspects of empathy into its appearance (cuteness)?

Immersive Experiences
How can technology expand into the space in which retail takes place? How can this space be transformed into a unique experience that expands the meaning of a product or brand? How can this space be transformed into a parallel universe for a moment?

Narrative Experiences
Can a retail experience be understood as a journey or a short story? If yes, how can technology be used to insert the customer into this journey and build the experience throughout every step of it? How can the customer be transformed into a character that is a part of a bigger story?


Early Explorations

With different concepts in mind, we brought in further examples of objects, spaces, and experiences that reflect these themes. This exercise helped us refined our insights and determine which themes to pursue through prototypes. We honed in on in-store experiences and brainstormed how we could augment it by creating a pseudo-choreographed consumer journey, and providing a moment of magic during it.

This exercise led us to asking, what are some problems that arise during the consumer shopping experience?

  • Difficulty finding items
  • orgetting to buy certain items
  • Juggling mobile device and items
  • akes too much time

We played with the idea of having visual maps of routes to products. Could a user input what product they’re looking for and thereby be assigned a token that could guide them to it? Ideating on pain points, ideas, and themes, LAMA emerged as a result focusing on large retail department stores within suburban and urban settings. The concept comprises of three parts:

  1. Smart phone app
  2. SmartCart
  3. In-store ceiling light sculpture

The smartphone app gives users the ability to create shopping lists (in and out of store) and shows personalized recommended products. In store, along with showing the ideal path on a google-maps like navigation system on the app, the ceiling displays a real-time light sculpture that visualises the user's path on the ceiling. The app and SmartCart also provide the ability to check out through the app. 

Throughout the research and design process, we thought a lot about how physical in-store shoppers can experience similar benefits/power/privilege as online shoppers. For retailers, the value proposition included the ability to include additional touch points/opportunities for sale, and the potential to manage store traffic better.


Evolving Ideas & Interaction Prototypes

During this phase, the goal was to demonstrate ideas for the possible uses of technology in the future of retail. As a team, we had to create a testable prototype of idea, user test the prototype, iterate on the idea based on feedback, and also showcase an ideal user experience. We began to build out the following virtual and tangible prototypes to determine the best experience:

  • User flow of the whole user experience
  • User flow of the app and mock ups of the user interface. I additionally also created the visual design (colors, typography, and iconography) for users to navigate the app
  • Paper prototypes of how physical fixtures would work
  • Shopping-cart clip-on to test experience in-store

User flow mockups

For the mobile app, I used adobe illustrator to design the user interface, and InVision app for interactive mobile prototypes to determine the best experience. 

  Illustration of light fixtures

Illustration of light fixtures

 In-store light installations inspired by Sky's the Limit (1987) at O'Hare International Airport

In-store light installations inspired by Sky's the Limit (1987) at O'Hare International Airport

  Rough sketches for vertical and horizontal smartphone holder shopping cart

Rough sketches for vertical and horizontal smartphone holder shopping cart

We tested the concept by putting it through two rounds of preliminary user testing to gather user feedback. 

  To mock-up light sculptures as a guide, we placed placed string on the floor and asked users to follow it

To mock-up light sculptures as a guide, we placed placed string on the floor and asked users to follow it

Results and next steps

These tests helped us make changes to the app interface, as well as got us thinking about alternate ways of physically directing users. We created and outlined the underlying thinking, system components and technical specifications of the project. Saman (team's engineer) developed technical mock-ups to test the feasibility of user pathways via an algorithm. We additionally also ran into technical problems such as how to deal with multiple users but limited colors but we broke the problem down by understanding customer rate per hour, entrance distribution pattern, shopping list generation pattern, and diversity of distinguishable colors. 

We had the awesome opportunity of presenting LAMA at the NYC Media Lab Annual Summit 2015 during the Seed Project Variety Show.