The purpose of this timely project is to explore the potential for reconfiguring the traditional organisation of customer, salesperson, cash register, things (tangible commodities) and database, to allow shops that represent ‘stacks’ of both immaterial and material processes to share data that will improve social and economic conditions. That British high streets are in trouble is well-documented by the Portas Review (2011), which describes the impact that internet shopping, out of town shopping centres and the economic downturn have had upon on these spaces of vital social, economic and environmental exchange (see Miller 1998). One ramification is the decreased employment opportunities for local young people. This was followed this year by the Grimsey Review (2013), which offered a deeper ‘digital’ critique of the state of the High Street, embracing a Digitally Economic perspective. ‘To strengthen the high street, we need to increase the number of mutual connections between the nodes or network participants (retail, services, local government, job centres and all others). The more mutual connections, the more adaptive the high street network becomes in response to changes in the success of individuals shops and services’. (Grimsey 2013:17).
The Connected High Street project builds on research and innovation that NCR Consumer Experience (Cx) have initiated in response to the advent of ubiquitous computing in which every shopper now carries a cash register in the form of a smart phone. Equipped with a suite of applications, shoppers are able to make purchases, compare prices, track goods, acquire vouchers and group together with friends or strangers to get better deals, all contributing to the consumers range of tactics to make the most from the high street. This project wants to use this sophisticated user knowledge to inform new models of interaction with physical artefacts and their connected data to improve the high street experience and recover cultural values and relationships that are core to shopping.
The research partnership is completed through the investigators’ expertise and experience in handling the remaining vital component in the context of the connected high street: things. The extraordinary number of products available in a typical high street at any one time is a material manifestation of the big databases and shop inventories that are connected to each thing. Making visible the scale of the goods in the high street to the shopper, through patterns, correlations and recommendations is a critical step in developing a more connected high street. Through a better understanding of how this data can support the shopper and the salesperson to connect ‘things that want to be together’, new models of shopping will emerge and reinvigorate the role of things, people and architectures. This Internet of Things project is firmly located within the tenet that the re- thinking of things, data and people might unpack and ameliorate established practices.
At the point of applying for the grant the team developed a design fiction that might envisage what sort of interactions might take place across a connected high street. The design fiction features three visions for anticipating a connected high street. Each scenario is linked to key concepts identified through meetings with Charlie Rohan, Director of Consumer Experience for NCR (see Context and Background) as well as existing research that offers insights into the material, social and contextual attributes of material and immaterial things (see Existing Research and Design Opportunity).
The project adopts a combination of ethnographic methods and rapid development using User Stories to ensure a user-led approach toward the development of design prototypes. Building upon existing technologies that exist in the wild: Bluetooth LE, RFID/NFC technologies, barcodes, thermal printers, GPS, SMS and of course smart phones in general.
It is anticipated that the design process will lead to technical interventions within High Street contexts that will breakdown the existing shops silos to connect people (shoppers and salespeople) with meaningful data through the interaction with ‘things’ (available goods).
1. To use a combination of product design and design informatics to explore the potentials for opening up the databases that currently exist within the silos along the high street, allowing shoppers and salespeople to see connections between goods.
2. In collaboration with stakeholders, to develop rapid innovative technical interventions offers NCR a viable alternative to ‘frictionless shopping’ whilst offering shoppers a more significant role for the physical artefact both
as trusted friend but also gateway to more information and knowledge.
3. Through a study of the design interventions, understand how the linkages between goods that are in discrete shop databases and the recommendations made through machine learning support a richer consumer and vendor experience, and their implications for new high street experiences.