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Inside Retail & Impacta

Tech innovation catalyst Impacta Lab sees the future affecting retail today

(Source: Supplied)

Conventional wisdom holds that it’s unwise to look too far into the future. History shows us that the world’s trajectory can change course in a moment – all it takes is a war, a political crisis, a global pandemic or an environmental disaster and the pathway ahead can be totally rewritten.

That kind of traditional thinking holds very little interest for Impacta’s founder Sergio Argento, whose venture catalyst and innovation lab focuses firmly on projects that plant their feet 15 years in the future and beyond. 

“We’re not interested in conservative players from any sandbox, including retail,” says Argento. “We consider a 15-year horizon a normal approach for every venture we incept, advise, support or invest in. The massive convergence between AI, XR, blockchain, telecommunications and robotics is inevitable, and is already reshaping everything including retail. What we see coming is an AI-assisted environment where one can design, create, customise, promote and sell or buy virtually anything we are using every day now”

Argento, who speaks with absolute confidence in speech peppered with tech buzzwords and metaversive neologisms, expects most retailers are likely to be scared by his vision.

“Imagine the emerging generations who are five to 10 years old right now,” says Argento. “Maybe in 15 or 20 years from now, 7-Eleven will be the only physical retail experience they will have, when they need something immediately and are already in the streets. Everything beyond the immediate, in the way products or brands are designed, created, marketed and sold, will be completely different. Will it be like a metaversive NFTified experience? Yes, the probability is very high. The probability that the future of retail will be very much connected with the hype we are witnessing right now is really high.”

While Argento is quick to emphasise that he’s not necessarily an advocate for the cyberpunked future he envisages, Impacta is certainly bringing startups and corporations into its sandbox to embrace technological advances that seem straight out of science fiction. The team regularly meets shortlisted candidates to assess the potential chemistry, usually engaging one startup every three months. Their current portfolio includes space advertising firm Astraios, NFT marketplace Apollo42, and tech-driven art installation Teleport – all visionary startups sharing Impacta’s conviction that the world two decades into the future is and should be impacting everything happening in retail right now. 

“Can you imagine the reaction of households with black and white TVs in the 1950s when the first commercial, the first ugly, bad-quality commercial arrived?” asks Argento. “It was a kind of intrusion, but it took just a few years for people to adapt. We’re now going towards commercials in space. We incepted the Astraios project in September last year, although it sounded like crazy stuff for a couple of years. It’s a constellation of satellites in the sky – you’ll be able to use them as a QR code transmitting the latest promos from Mercedes Benz or Omega or whatever brand, globally. It sounded weird until in August last year, when Elon Musk tweeted that space advertising is going to be huge. Flying logos are going to be the new normal in 30 years. Will it change, will it influence the way our products are marketed? The way campaigns are launched? For sure!”

With the Apollo42 project now attracting interest from major PR and communications agencies such as Dentsu for the potential to bring B2B service applications to its customers – and with Teleport taking serious enquiries from F&B operators and shopping malls seeking ways to involve the digital hype into their product positioning to generate consumer traffic, Argento seems to be already trading in a future that looks increasingly like the reality of today.

“The abundance of all these sci-fi and space-related movies and TV series, we adults watch them as entertainment, but youngsters expect that this is going to be reality,” observes Argento. “For retailers, if your pants, your boots, your devices, your spectacles don’t look like something from Star Trek, if the packaging of your food doesn’t look space compatible or space inspired, it’s going to be really difficult for you as a brand to market your stuff in future.”

Retailers will get the chance to evaluate Impacta’s vision for themselves this December at the Next Reality Summit, which Impacta is organising as a series of tracked events looking at the future of retail, food, mobility, robotics and so on. The slogan of the summit is a simple challenge: “brace for the future”.

“We don’t want people to be afraid of what’s coming,” says Argento. “But a nice portion of fear will let a lot of these corporations think faster, think quicker about what’s happening.”

Find out more about Impacta at https://www.impactalab.com.