Blending the digital and the physical: the technology behind CornerShop at The Drum Labs

With live events on pause for the foreseeable, a recession on the horizon and every industry from hospitality to retail radically altered, it feels like there is very little to be positive about in the short to medium term.

So with political strife and further restrictions on our social and working lives dominating the headlines, The Drum has taken it upon ourselves to find a silver lining. Instead of reporting on the death of venues, we decided to open one that will cater to the strange new world we find ourselves in.

The team at The Drum spent the first wave of lockdown devising and building The Drum Labs – a new three-storey home in the heart of London’s Shoreditch, scheduled to open in November.

At The Drum Labs, the CornerShop occupies the ground floor and acts as a store of the future. Devised by agency SharpEnd and consultancy Capgemini, It has been specially designed as the retailer for the contactless age. The space is set out in zones, which include fashion, grocery, quick-serve and coffee.

On the process of developing the concept, Ed De Mott, product owner at Capgemini’s applied innovation exchange, says: “We’re interested in what the future of retail might look like, and that covers everything in the retail experience, from fashion to groceries.

“Taking those through from concept to a working demo means assessing what they are, the technological challenges, the user experience, whether we build the solutions or integrate with partners – there’s many elements to explore to get things into the store.”

One such solution in the CornerShop is how the shopper’s smartphone will act as a remote control, guiding them around a space, with touchless technology helping them make sustainable and purposeful choices.

“The app will be the gateway to the store, and everything will be connected through the user’s device so they’ll be able to take control from the moment they enter the store,” says Natalie Michalski, the user experience consultant at Capgemini’s applied innovation exchange.

“There’s a lot of different elements to the store, which from a user perspective might be overwhelming. But we’re hoping that we’ve designed it in a way that will be very clear and concise, and that actually helps the user find what they need.”

De Mott sees the blending of the digital and the physical within the CornerShop as an exciting opportunity to try out an omni-channel approach to retail. “When it comes to online shopping, we’re all used to setting our preferences so the site learns about us and gives us a better shopping experience.

“When it comes to aisle shopping, things haven’t changed much over the years – so you still walk in, see what you want, buy it. We had fun asking how we can use digital to enhance that experience and make it more personal.”

De Mott does concede that safety and security amid the coronavirus pandemic has made certain demands on the space. “Covid-19 has thrown up a few challenges, and there’s no getting away from that.”

He cites touchless shopping as one solution to the health and safety measures required during the ongoing pandemic, while the shop also offers opportunities to try on fashion products virtually. It will also use computer vision to observe who is adhering to social distancing within the store.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us all how quickly and efficiently we can adjust and innovate, and the CornerShop hopes to serve as an example of what happens when we combine a little resilience with the lessons we have all learned during these troubling times.