commercetools experts guide retailers on a tour of San Diego’s most innovative stores

San Diego Walking Tour: A Glimpse into the Future of Retail

Savannah Foreman
Savannah Foreman
Technical Writer, commercetools
Published 27 February 2024
Estimated reading time minutes

The vibrant city of San Diego became the backdrop for the latest edition of our ongoing "Future of Retail”  walking tours. Kelly Goetsch, Chief Strategy Officer of commercetools, chose to explore San Diego’s Westfield UTC, which offers one million square feet of Class A retail space. He recruited Jen Gardner, Vice President of Sales at commercetools to co-host. Together, they explored the most innovative stores at the mall, allowing attendees to experience the remarkable technologies retailers are offering customers to create interactive experiences that enhance the shopping journey and drive sales. Here, we offer up a recap that will (hopefully) inspire you to join us at one of our next events.

commercetools experts guide retailers on a tour of San Diego’s most innovative stores

The Future of Retail Walking Tour: San Diego Edition

In October 2022, Kelly hosted the first Future of Retail Walking Tour, introducing this innovative concept to the bustling streets of New York. Inspired by its success, he took the show on the road to Minneapolis. He kicked off 2024 by guiding a group of retailers through the most technologically advanced brick-and-mortar stores in San Diego. As he explained, "The brands here (UTC), the LEGOs and Sephora’s of the world, they’re differentiating on experience."

Kelly carefully selected a diverse mix of stores from the UTC roster that exemplify the cutting edge of in-store customer engagement through technology. "Part of my job is to figure out what’s going on in retail. We need to stay in front of what’s going on."

A Day of Discovery and Innovation

The tour was filled with visits to forward-thinking stores, each demonstrating unique ways that technology is being integrated into the retail environment. The first stop was Kiehl's, where participants had their skin analyzed using the latest dermatological technology. This personalized shopping experience left many attendees amazed at the precision and customization possible in today’s retail environment.

Kiehl’s customer representative

Next, the group ventured into the imaginative world of LEGO, where building mini-figurines was just the beginning. The store showcased an augmented reality (AR) experience that brought creations to life, merging digital innovation with the tactile joy of brick-building.

The journey continued at Ray-Ban, where attendees experienced the future of wearable technology through a full demo of the new Meta augmented reality sunglasses. This immersive experience highlighted how AR is transforming not just how we see the world but also how we shop and interact with brands.

At Lucid Motors, the group explored the brand's innovative direct-to-consumer retail model. This approach, cutting out traditional dealerships, provides a sleek and streamlined customer experience, mirroring the sophistication of their electric vehicles.

Lucid Motors store experience

At Peloton Interactive, everyone took advantage of the hands-on opportunity to try out their latest exercise equipment. This experience underscored the importance of integrating digital convenience with physical health and wellness in the retail sector.

In-store technology at Peloton

The tour also included a stop at Forward Health, where the group was introduced to the company’s healthcare subscription model. They had the opportunity to explore the multiple ways they are integrating technology-based solutions to revolutionize how we think about and manage our healthcare.

A stop at lululemon capped off the tour. The store showcased a perfect example of blending digital and physical retail by demonstrating how technology can enhance the shopping experience, making it more personalized and engaging.

Reflections and Insights

To get a better perspective on the experience, we asked a few of the attendees to share why they signed up, what impressed them most and how they felt about the guided tour approach.

I came on the Walking Tour to learn about all the new retail experiences and understand how technology helps enable it. Regarding our Kiehl’s experience, I didn’t realize they could have such advanced skin analysis in-store. Hopefully, that drives more sales through their various vendors.

We’re definitely moving to a world where you want to be able to buy anything, anywhere at any time — whether it’s in-store, on a phone or computer, we’re going to see more and more of those experiences across the board.
Ken Wong

Analyst, Oppenheimer & Co.

It was an awesome opportunity to see how retail has grown to be such a personalized and engaging experience beyond traditional retail. The interactive nature breaks beyond the online presence that can be flat and static. Given what seems to be a broken US healthcare system, I was intrigued by Forward, a nice intersection between technology and capability for medical care.
Ryan Libbey

Product Manager, Rothy's

Walking the Future of Retail was a great opportunity to meet up with my friends from commercetools, meet some new industry leaders and see what people are doing in the retail space. I’m learning that it is a lot more immersive to go into a shop than to buy stuff on Amazon. I also learned you can buy fresh cupcakes out of an atm/vending machine!

Having a qualified brand ambassador, not just a store employee, is important. Everyone wants connection, and the Brand Ambassador at Kiehl’s not only demonstrated a lot of knowledge about skincare, but it was evident he is quite passionate about their product. So in that case, the interactive aspect was more inter-personal.

I’m a big believer in AR (augmented reality), so with the new Apple headset, I think we’re going to see more things like that. In brick and mortar [store], similar to what we saw at LEGO and Peloton, I think interactive experiences are going to become more prevalent.
Ian Leslie

Enterprise Account Executive, Pipe17

The tour was a really good reminder that retail space mixed with technology can really enhance the experience for the customer: ambiance, tech integration, the town center feel, emphasis on food, fashion — all the different things that perhaps you really can’t get in eCommerce.
Mark Carmona

Manager of Optical Products Strategy and Innovation, Kaiser Permanente

Key Takeaways

Participants left with a deeper understanding of the current state of retail innovation and a sense of excitement for what the future holds. The tour underscored the importance of technology in creating immersive, personalized shopping experiences that connect deeply with consumers.

 A few key insights from the experience:

  • Personalization is Key: Technologies that offer customized experiences, like skin analyses at Kiehl's, are setting new standards in customer engagement.
  • AR is Now: From LEGO to Ray-Ban, augmented reality is not just a gimmick but a powerful tool for enhancing product interaction and customer satisfaction.
  • Direct-to-Consumer Models are Evolving: Lucid Motors' approach is reshaping how products are sold and how brands connect with their customers.
  • Wellness and Technology are Merging: Peloton and Forward Health are leading the way in integrating digital innovations with health and wellness, offering new ways for consumers to engage with these crucial aspects of their lives.
  • The Future is Blended: lululemon’s approach to integrating digital elements into the physical shopping experience is a model for how retailers can offer the best of both worlds.

Looking Ahead

As commercetools continues to host these tours across the U.S. and explores expansion into Europe, the goal remains to showcase the transformative potential of technology in retail. With our experts on hand to provide valuable insights, attendees not only leave with inspiration but with strategies that can take back to their organizations to incent innovation and change.

For those interested in the intersection of technology and retail, future events promise even more discoveries.

To learn more about how technology is transforming the retail landscape and to stay updated on future events, check out the commercetools Events Calendar.

Savannah Foreman
Savannah Foreman
Technical Writer, commercetools

With more than 7 years of experience in professional, academic and technical writing, Savannah is passionate about crafting precise, user-focused, and widely accessible technical content for any audience.

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