Malls of the future: touchscreen store windows made from 'connected glass'

Story highlights

  • eBay introduces digital storefronts that converge online and offline shopping
  • Giant touchscreen windows installed in Westfield San Francisco Center
  • Shoppers can browse products, order and have them delivered to their door for free

Think back to that prehistoric era before the internet existed. Around this time every year the dreadful reality of Christmas shopping would dawn: you would soon have no choice but to face the music and that music would be none other than a hypnotic rendition of Jingle Bells following you into every store, turning you into yet another mall zombie like the rest of them.

Today, with the modern miracle that is e-commerce, most of us buy many of our gifts via computer without a single festive melody or human interaction. It may be a welcome modernization for consumers, but does it take a little magic out of the whole experience?

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Now, with an innovative new hybrid shopping concept, we'll be able to enjoy aspects of both worlds. This season sees the advent of 'digital storefronts', giant touchscreen store windows where customers can browse through a retailer's items with a single swipe. Once they find something they can hit the 'order' button and a link will be sent to their mobile phone, allowing them to pay through PayPal or with a credit or debit card.

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"(It) brings the best of online and new technologies to the physical world," says Steve Yankovich, vice president of innovation and new ventures at eBay, who have recently partnered with retail experience firm Westfield Labs to launch a series of digital storefronts at the Westfield San Francisco Center.

Retailers Sony, TOMS and Rebecca Minkoff have all set up 'Connected Glass' points in the mall, which provide customers with a virtual shop within a real mall. Of the three, only Sony has a physical outlet there.

"The Digital Storefronts in Westfield San Francisco Centre are a great alternative to empty spaces in the mall. The opportunity is for brands to expand their footprint by offering vertical shopping experiences. Connected glass doesn't require a square footage retail space. Therefore, it allows retailers to have a presence in areas with heavy foot traffic, where a square footage retail space wouldn't be possible or affordable," said Yankovich.

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Of course, with digital storefronts you still have to make the time to visit, but once you do you get all the benefits of quick browsing and purchasing that are often lacking in a traditional store. This way, shoppers can scroll through goods and have them sent to a pick-up point or delivered to their door, mostly with free delivery and in some cases on the same day.

New York design outfit Kate Spade also recently collaborated with the online retailer, to connect their digital storefront to an option similar to eBay's same day delivery service, eBay Now, which delivers items in about an hour from the time of purchase.

The company's 'Connected Glass' technology could be widely installed on unused surfaces in the future, particularly in busy airports and train stations.

Monday this week was 'Green Monday,' normally eBay's busiest sales day of the year.