Holition is a creative agency delivering innovative digital solutions for retailers. Their work has been at the forefront of some of the most exciting retail developments of recent years. I sat down with CEO Jonathan Chippindale to discuss the future of retail.
Jonathan begins by surprising me; he claims that Holition is a technology firm that dislikes technology. “We’re a creative agency, we deliver artistic projects” he explains. “I find screens and wires distance us from each other” he continues, “tech lets consumers and brands down”. This is a refreshingly frank position for the CEO of a leading technology agency to take. I wonder what makes Holition different. “Holition is about the relationship between brands and consumers”. It is completely ideas lead. Rather than getting excited about a new piece of tech and wondering what they can do with it, Holition takes commissions from brands, thinks what they’d love to do and then tries to figure out how to make it happen. “Ideas push us forwards, tech pulls us back.”
I ask Jonathan what it is that isn’t working so well with a lot of tech we see in stores at the moment. As well as an over-reliance on screens, he sees a basic issue that tech isn’t simple enough to use or beautiful within the space. The company’s needs are prioritised over the consumers, which means people in store are reluctant to use the tech available. The benefit to the customer needs to be immediately clear, and the way it works has to be obvious so that no one feels hesitant or embarrassed. Holition’s technology has streamlined processes, looks beautiful – in short, it’s cool.
Jonathan is reluctant to tell me which brands he’s most excited about at the moment, feeling that there’s still a long way to go for all retailers to fully integrate their online and offline worlds. “I hate the term ‘omnichannel’” he says “digital is a part of shopping that’s here to stay. Omnichannel is just ‘retail’ now.” He also points to the speed at which retail processes get out of date at the moment. “Online brands were at the height of innovation, and people thought the high street was dead, now companies like Amazon are looking at moving into physical space. Disparate brands are moving closer together.” He continues to be excited by the innovation he sees in retail, but stresses that for a lot of these company’s they’re still working on turning their brand presence into solid sales figures. At the other end of the scale, established brands find it hard to react to innovation. “They see an exciting idea, they try to respond, then finally after 6 months of red tape they get something going and it’s too late.” Innovation is about being able to take risks, he explains, “innovation is willingness to explore and to fail”
When asked which project he is most proud of, Jonathan replies “the Dunhill holographic show”. It was a spectacular technological feat. But it was not his team’s technological achievements that made this a standout moment for Jonathan. “When the lights came up, I turned to the lady I was stood with and she was crying. It’s not that I want to make people weep, but for someone to have that strong an emotional response to our work is what it’s all about.”
Another groundbreaking project Holition is working on is ‘unseen’ wearable tech, such as clothing that changes colour depending on the mood of the wearer. The changes are subtle; like the Northern Lights you can’t see the colours morphing, but suddenly notice that your date’s yellow t-shirt is now blue. Whether this means that you’re in or if it’s time to beat a hasty retreat is for you to decipher. These technology developments have wider implications for the future of wearable tech. At the moment, Jonathan claims, wearable tech is a largely selfish affair. It gives you data about your heart rate, or tells you about your appointments. But this technology has the power to collect data that is helpful for the wider community. One project with a climate change conference, for example, looks at collating data about the environment – air pollution levels perhaps – and feeding it back to environmental specialists to analyse instant, real-time information. The t-shirts could change colour or pattern depending on the information collected from that person. Like adapting trainers to act as wifi hotspots, it’s important that this technology is desirable as an item in itself, or consumers will not be persuaded to wear it. Although technology is hard to develop, it’s easier to to do this than to change people’s patterns of behaviour.
One of Holition’s big recent developments is virtual cosmetics app ‘Face’. Jonathan bemoans the fact that, much as with the current 3D film market, cheap Augmented Reality has destroyed the market for it. ‘Face’ is different, he explains, as it’s the first truly scaleable AR app, and the best use of rendering and tracking to produce quality results. It’s also one of Holition’s first ‘products’, a platform it is offering to tailor to different clients needs, to sit as a tool within their existing sites or apps. It’s exciting, he explains, because it isn’t just a gimmick; it’s useful to a beauty customer to be able to try on far more different products than they would in real life. It also allows them to receive personalised pallette and product suggestions and then to try them out.
This personalisation is crucial, he claims, for the future of retail. We need to go back to the time when customers were seen as individuals, by using predictive intelligence based on purchasing histories. He also hopes to see a true merging of the digital and physical spaces. Finally, he wants to abolish screens and other micro worlds, moving technology out into the real world for real connection to occur. A multi-sensory, seamless retail experience that values the consumer’s individual needs above all.