When I was growing up, Sunday nights were always ‘dinners with Disney.’ We would gather around the TV, and if my mother had not created something fabulous for my four brothers and me, it might have been Swanson who laid out dinner on a folding TV table in front of us. Then, Walt would take us to places of imagination. Fond memories.
Around the same time, the original Star Trek TV show introduced me to the idea that in the unimaginably vast universe, our little blue ball is but a speck. It would take the “Next Generation” series of the TV show to imagine that the worlds we could inhabit could be digitally created in real time. The holodeck was good science fiction and a very real possibility. A key feature of the holodeck was the ability of the user to determine the nature of the experience. The virtual playground could be operated in two modes: either a first-person subjective mode, in which the user actively interacted with the program and its characters; or a third-person objective mode, in which the user remained outside the actual running of the program and did not directly interact with it.
The brilliance of the holodeck concept was that it could be a world of your own creation. And then you could occupy it with your mind and body. Whether you manufactured a virtual world from your imagination or chose from a preset number of options, as a user, you were integrally involved in defining the nature of the experience. It was the individual who established the parameters of the interaction, and, in doing so, made it both relevant and engaging.
The holodeck was not technology in an environment; it was the environment.
While we are still a few years away from holodeck-like experiences, virtual-reality headsets are able to provide wearers with compelling virtual environments, wide fields of view and ultra-low latency head tracking. Even so, people who use them are still hard-wired to their computers. Getting rid of the leash is a significant hurdle for VR to go mainstream, and when it does, it will be a game changer allowing truly ambulatory game play and movement through virtual space.
In the near retail future, customizability of in-store shopping experiences will become increasingly popular. The ability for customers to create the environments in which they shop – laying out the store in a way that is intuitive for them to navigate, playing the music they like, providing shopping assistants (virtual or real) who are created to meet the shopper’s personality type, and curating the assortment of product to the individual shopper’s needs – will be possible in future shopping places where technology merges with the customer’s imaginative brain with their digital life story. Personalized experience and allowing guests to write themselves into the brand narrative are key features of empowering customers and will play a significant role in future shopping environments.
Over the next few years, shoppers will begin to shed the cumbersome cognitive processes of cost comparisons, curating the product assortment into segments that are easier to shop, and understanding the details of product specifications. Big data number crunching algorithms will also help to make decision-making at the point of sale easier by curating product assortments, providing product information and customizing the shopping trip after mining a shopper’s digital life stream.

With decision-making made easier, retailers and brands will need to continue to focus their efforts on creating environments that engage the customer with real-time personalized downloads, augmented reality games in real and virtual space, and immersive experiences at multiple touch points using traditional media, smartphones and smart ubiquitous computing – all at the same time.
Technology that is part of the process of shopping, something that customers engage in as part of the experience leading to a purchase, will enlist the shopper’s body and mind in creating positive experiences. In future stores, today’s digital wall paper will be replaced by an interactive digital environment that is relevant because customers will actively participate in its design.

The holodeck of shopping experiences will be best when it runs in ‘subjective’ mode in which shoppers create and directly interact with the surroundings. These shopping places of the future will engage shoppers in right-brain imaginative making. They will not be a one-size-fits-all experiences, but rather a ‘smart’ interactive playground that directly addresses our deep need for play, relationship and creating, which are founding elements of our collective evolutionary past.

Author David Kepron will present Seminar 33 entitled, “Shopping on the Holodeck,” on Thursday, March 30 at 2 pm at DSE 2017 to be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information on this or any educational program offered at DSE 2017 or to learn more about digital signage go to www.dse2017.com.