Every year, IBM releases a list of tech trends that it predicts will have a major affect on our lives over the next five years. In its most recent list, the company made the rather surprising prediction that physical retail shops will become much more popular than internet-based stores. They'll do so utilizing technologies that offer customers a more immersive, interactive shopping experience than they could get simply sitting at their computer. Canada's FGL Sports must be eager to usher in that new age of shopping, as it just opened what it describes as "the most digitally advanced and personalized retail experience in the world." That experience takes the form of the new 80,000 sq ft (7,432 sq m) SportChek sporting goods store, located in Edmonton, Alberta's West Edmonton Mall.

As far as the world record claim goes, it really comes down to numbers. Among other things, the flagship store features over 800 screens displaying 220 channels worth of information, over 1,200 sq ft (111 sq m) of digitally-projected content, and 250 staff to help customers use the interactive technology. "With extensive reviews of retail all over the globe by our executive, marketing teams and store operations team, there is nothing out there that integrates this many elements in a bricks and mortar environment," Matt Dellandrea, FGL's Manager of Product Training told us.

Some specific examples of those elements include ...

  • Large-format touchscreen displays that detect RFID tags on merchandise, so they can present information on products that customers are holding
  • Transparent boxes that display tangible products, but with animated informational text and graphics overlaid on the front panel
  • A gait analysis center, that electronically assesses how customers walk and run while wearing different types of footwear
  • Simulator areas that let customers try out golf clubs, bicycles, and climbing gear (the latter utilizing a Climbstation vertical treadmill)
  • A community center, where staff help customers use a large-format touchscreen to look up information on local sports clubs and events

Anyhow, you get the idea. You can see a more extensive listing of the technologies in our photo gallery, plus you can check out some of the more eye-catching examples in our video tour of the store, at the bottom of the page.

Given that the new SportChek location opened just a week ago, it will be interesting to see how things work out. It's definitely ambitious, although it can't be cheap to run – and the West Ed Mall has certainly seen its share of other big, ambitious retail experiments that came and went. In any case, if IBM is to be believed, the flagship store does offer us a sneak peek at the direction in which all shops may ultimately be heading.

View gallery - 18 images