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Why Canadian merchants need MaRS’ Retail and Digital Commerce cluster

Shopping behaviours are changing rapidly, but the organization’s latest venture may help the sector better prepare for innovation.


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The way in which we will shop in the near future is being determined by a number of major retailers today, with the help of a variety of innovative entrepreneurs and startups. The retail space has remained relatively stagnant for a significant period of time, and those close to the industry can feel the rumblings of major disruption fast approaching.

To help Canada ride this wave of innovation, as opposed to being washed away under it, the MaRS Innovation Centre in Toronto recently announced the launch of a Retail and Digital Commerce cluster, which will support entrepreneurs on the forefront of retail disruption.

According to its website, the MaRS’s latest cluster will focus on the following themes:

  • Data, analytics and artificial intelligence
  • 3D printing and intelligent packaging
  • Augmented reality (AR) and other effective technologies that optimize consumer interactions for more meaningful experiences
  • Wearables and connected devices that are creating highly contextualized shopper experiences and new emotional “identities” for brands to target
  • On-demand delivery platforms
  • Social and mobile technologies that create highly personalized loyalty programs

While the very mention of these subjects may leave some veterans of the industry shaking in their boots, those quick to embrace change see an immense opportunity, and one that Canada, as a digitally connected country and home to some of the world’s top brands, is in a unique position to lead.

All of this change and disruption has significant implications for the IT retail world, which will largely spearhead these changes. As an example, while the brick and mortar storefront has slowly moved online in recent years, the transition towards e-commerce is about to pull a U-turn.

Take Montreal-based online retailer Frank & Oak for example, which is already experimenting with a brick and mortar storefront not to sell products, but as a marketing vessel for its e-commerce business.

“The store of tomorrow is less about being transactional and more about the experience and ability to use the store as a media platform,” Frank & Oak’s co-founder and CEO Ethan Song recently told Fast Company. “More important than the transactions we make is the idea of creating a sense of place and a feeling of community when a consumer steps into our stores. Allowing people to experience the brand firsthand and in person allows this sense of community to flourish.”

While consumer touch points are becoming less digital, digital elements of the retail experience (customization, consumer insight, mobile shopping, wearable technology and customer loyalty) are being driven by digital innovations like big data analytics, wearable technology and augmented reality.

While the startups occupying the new MaRS cluster consider the implications of the retail world of Tomorrow, major retail brands must prepare to rapidly adapt their digital strategy in line with the changes quickly approaching the retail world to win in this new era of shopping.

Image: Sue McGill, innovation lead of consumer technology at MaRS, speaks at the Retail & Digital Commerce cluster launch. (via MaRS)

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