In the movie, Minority Report, Tom Cruise's character wowed audiences with a multiple object computer display that allowed him to shift and shuffle items as they floated before his eyes. The technologies in that movie, along with many others, like I Robot, and the Star Wars saga, tend to show intelligent machines as physical entities that co-exist with people, but with talents and appearances that remain sufficiently different and novel.
It would be rather dull to watch a sci-fi movie where the lead character stops to check their iPhone. That wouldn't be science fiction. It's something that any of us could do right now. This makes it incredibly easy to overlook the fact that cyborgs and robots already live among us. Some are disguised as apps, others as devices like smart thermostats, wearables, and self-driving cars.
These are more than just dumb machines. They deliver information in a highly portable and interactive fashion. They may not think entirely for themselves, but they have become a valuable appendage to the human body and mind, allowing us to actually become part cyborg.
The cyborgs are already here, but sadly many in retail have failed to see them.
The Human-Smartphone Cyborg
The most powerful cyborg enabling device of all is the smartphone. It looks innocuous enough, but it is versatile and adaptable, capable of providing a universe of services to its owner. Most humans carry one, and they get extremely nervous and agitated when they are separated from it.
"What if all shopping was done by cyborgs? What would the retail environment look like?" It is a thought-provoking question because it makes people picture a retail store in which sleek humanoid robots walk the aisles.
This conjures up a comical and improbable scene, but with a little second thought, it leads people to an inescapable fact. The intelligence that science fiction attributes to cyborgs is already here, and it is all inside that smartphone-human relationship.
Retail today is a mobile-first world. People are spending many hours per day on their mobile devices. Mobile apps help them find items, compare prices and even talk to friends or sales associates to get advice. All those elements that were the norm in years prior to 2016, things like consumers willing to wait in line, physical cash registers, overnight delivery, and complicated purchase procedures – all of these things are quaintly analog and out-of-date for the era of the human cyborg.
The Mobile Retail Report addresses a majority of retail stores still not offering publicly accessible Wi-Fi to help their customers connect to the channels that complete their awareness as shoppers. The same research showed that over three-quarters of the brands sampled did not offer a shoppable app.
Even more troubling is the ardent resistance to allowing sales associates to take advantage of mobile knowledge, specifically about the customer standing in front of them. The data that their own mobile device could deliver would raise the quality of the customer/sales associate relationship to much higher, more personal levels, resulting in greater sales and loyalty.
Store associates are losing the arms race against retail cyborgs. They stand at a disadvantage, and the casualty is lost sales, or more specifically, sales lost to a competitor. Brands that have not yet caught on must become aware of a single fact.
Cyborgs and retail are not science fiction. They are the new reality and are already at the malls.