Capgemini, SharpEnd and The Drum have teamed up to open ‘Cornershop’, a real store that tests out a digital retail future – with contactless coffee and tailored dietary recommendations

As shops close their doors up and down the country, it may seem an odd time to open one. Especially in the middle of locked down London, no less. But, for tech consultancy Capgemini, it was exactly the right moment.

That’s because the simply named ‘Cornershop’ – created in partnership with connected packaging firm SharpEnd and media brand The Drum – is not designed to compete with other retailers.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Unveiled last week, the high-tech Shoreditch premises are designed to help retailers “not just survive but thrive in the post-pandemic world”, says The Drum founder Gordon Young.

How? By testing and showcasing the best in latest retail technologies, fit for a very changed market.

“The pandemic has thrown the high street into crisis,” Young explains. “We’ve launched Cornershop in the midst of lockdown to prove to brands and retailers that there are inspiring solutions available.”

From a tech point of view, it certainly fulfils the inspiring brief. Shoppers effectively use their mobile phones as a remote control for their shopping experience, in a merging of the physical and digital worlds.

Several cutting-edge ‘experiences’ are currently being trialled. Using Bluetooth-based technologies, the store greets customers with personalised messages on screens. Via the store’s mobile app, connected packaging, AR and digital screens, customers can share their individual dietary needs, intolerances and sustainability goals, and be guided to products that match their preferences. Even the physical elements are cutting-edge. Fresh produce, for example, grows in vertical farms up the store’s walls.

Overall, the layout is loosely split into four sections: the automated store, the augmented store, the purposeful store and the personalised store.

Tech suite

The suite of tech on show will remain fluid, explains Steve Hewett, head of retail customer experience at Capgemini Invent. “We see customer loyalty as a critical battleground this year. We also see the role of the store staff changing and will be launching further innovations exploring in-store operations and staff empowerment.” The final area – looking at how data and analytics can “play a greater and greater role” – will become more of a focus as the year unfolds.

That data will come from transactions. Because the space will effectively function as a shop – except footfall will mainly come from retailers, clients and tech providers, and there will be no pressure to turn a profit.

“We will be selling products in the space, a small range of grocery and drinks, and we expect this to also draw footfall from the local area,” Hewitt explains.

“It has always been a goal for the space to be transactional, even in a small way,” adds SharpEnd MD Rob Hollands. “This is just one of the many ways it’s different to some of the lab style spaces that may have come before.”

This offers the advantage of being able to monitor shopper behaviour. While customers might not easily notice it – the point being they don’t – the shop floor is closely monitored from all angles, with computer vision cameras, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and photogrammetry combined with machine learning and augmented reality working to gather endless insight. That data is anonymised and accessible to everyone in the store, “to learn what the store learns”.

Several brands are already taking advantage of that insight by stocking their products in the space. These include touchless coffee machine maker TopBrewer, vertical farming startup Wallfarm and PepsiCo. Yeo Valley – which rolled out connected packaging across its organic products in October – is expected to feature soon, too. But arguably, the real lesson is for retailers.

“While the long-term impact of the pandemic on retail stores is yet to fully reveal itself, the events of the past year have radically escalated retailers’ need to redefine the purpose and experience of the store and its connection to the ever-changing digital ecosystem,” says Hewett. “This means it’s never been more critical to build the digital capabilities required to underpin a new shopping reality.”