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Inspiration Series is a regular feature on The Mintel Blog, giving readers an inside look at industry events, local happenings and shared encounters taking place in cities around the world as experienced through the eyes of Mintel’s expert analysts…

The Chicago-based Mintel Trends team recently attended Chicago Ideas Week (CIW), “a movement built on one core belief:  when a broad spectrum of thinkers and instigators share ideas, we have the power to transform our world.” Following this year’s CIW, Trends Analysts Carli Gernot and Stacy Glasgow have identified five examples of how Mintel Trends are playing out in the marketplace, as well as the inspiration they present for brands and businesses.

1. Experiencing Tech in the Retail Space

At CIW, the Trends team learned about ahead-of-the-curve retailers that are using innovative approaches to make brick-and-mortar shopping easier, giving consumers a reason to visit physical locations. An example of this is Chloe, a robot employee at a New York Best Buy that helps customers quickly browse and purchase movies, music, pre-owned games and after-hours convenience items like headphones and chargers.

Designer Rebecca Minkoff discussed her high-tech New York store, which Mintel Trends previously identified as a forward-thinking venue that provides optimum retail experiences. In the store, guests use touchscreens to select the pieces they want to try on and receive texts when their fitting rooms are stocked and ready. Once there, they can use touchscreen mirrors to request new sizes, change lighting in the room and interact with the store associate who is helping them.

What it means

With so many transactions shifting toward e-commerce, retailers are searching for solutions that differentiate them from competition, keep shoppers engaged with real-world brand experiences and ultimately strengthen the bond with consumers. Robot assistants and high-tech stores are both intriguing and suitable approaches, but at the same time, Minkoff placed significant emphasis on human stylists remaining a part of the solution. Shoppers have the prerogative to utilize the exact combination of technology and personal service that makes them comfortable. The emphasis goes as far as to award stylists with cross-channel sales recognition – even if shoppers later make their purchases online – in order to encourage this integrated approach.

While Best Buy is providing an alternative to the timeless sales associate model, Minkoff is weaving both together, and both options make sense. Heightened consumer expectations encompass service, technology and experiences. Retailers should focus on adapting innovations and incorporating flexibility for consumers to use the elements of in-store technological assistance that best suit their needs.

2. Accessing Control via Connectivity

Remarkable technological innovations continue to progress consumers’ connectedness within the Internet of Things (IoT). Across northern Illinois, ComEd is modernizing their electric systems by building smart grids and installing smart meters in all homes and businesses by 2018. Doing so allows customers to see daily usage summaries, and digital tools help consumers understand how they can save energy and money.

We also learned about NailO, a nail sticker developed by researchers at the MIT Media Lab which turns a user’s fingernail into a tiny trackpad. The small-but-mighty wearable has the capability to control a computer or a smartphone with a subtle finger swipe.

What it means

Smart companies are already dreaming up forward-thinking ways to streamline consumers’ lives by providing increased connectivity within the IoT. If the smart electric meter is connected to an app on a user’s smartphone, and if a person’s fingernail trackpad is also connected to the same smartphone, then it isn’t outlandish to imagine a future where a finger tap could pay an electric bill or dim a light switch remotely. Moving forward, where a simple smartphone app had previously sufficed, companies will need to provide apps that connect to other devices and systems – ultimately streamlining two previously “disconnected” parts of life.

To find out more about Mintel Trends and how they impact your market, click here.

Next week we will continue the Inspiration Series with more from Chicago Ideas Week.

Carli Gernot is the Manager of Trends for North America. She’s been with Mintel for seven years, contributing to the success of Trends since 2010. Carli is responsible for creating content for global trends, North American, and EMEA regions as well as ensuring that North American consumer trend content is relevant and insightful.

Stacy Glasgow is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.