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February 8, 2021

Phygital: when the physical meets the digital

Realizzare un ecosistema esperienziale integrato grazie alla tecnologia

Phygital e digitalizzazione

There is a widely-held conflicting view of the physical and digital worlds where the former is viewed as reality while the latter is not. However, the global public health emergency has contributed to eradicate this distinction or at least make it less of a chasm. Social distancing has imposed the massive use of technology (think of remote working for a start), uncoupling our social and working lives from a physical location. Our need to connect, socialise and share is no longer defined by a physical environment. The pandemic has thrust digitalisation upon us, intensifying the concept of phygital.

technology facilitates the creation of an integrated ecosystem where physical and digital worlds coexist

What is meant by phygital?

Any experience that implies contamination between physical space and digital technologies is phygital. There are three fundamental elements to define this concept:

  • Immediacy: Ensuring things happen at an exact moment in time
  • Immersion. The user is an integral of the experience
  • Interaction: The user is emotionally engaged through interaction

Technology facilities these elements, providing the user with a unique interactive experience.

Phygital Marketing

The marketing sector is creating new strategies building on the phygital trend. As Nicolò Andreula, the economist and author of the “#Phygital: il nuovo marketing, tra fisico e digitale” essay, states “values, emotions and humanity are at the core of a new marketing model designed for a world where the digital experience is increasingly connected to physical experience”. Many big brands have embraced this interconnection, proposing a high-quality phygital experience. 

Amazon is an example of this. The largest internet company in the world has created a revolutionary consumer experience with Amazon Go, a hyper-technological grocery store launched in 2018. This store does not have cashiers or checkouts: a customer downloads the app, creates an Amazon account and scans their ID code when entering the store. After this, Amazon takes care of the rest: each customer’s shopping is automatically checked and tallied using sensors and video cameras inside the store. Thanks to a complex AI system based on machine learning, the customers simply pick out the products they need. They get an electronic receipt on their smartphone after leaving the store, without going through checkout lines or checkpoints, thus speeding up the entire shopping process.

Today’s consumer switches naturally between the online and offline worlds

Another shopping experience example is Tesco which, in 2011, literally moved its shelves out of the supermarkets placing them around the towns. It created luminous billboards that showed life-size shelves of products (including their placement) and placed these billboards in high foot traffic areas like metro stations. Each product had a QR code which the customers scanned to have the product put into their online basket. 

Ikea did something similar: in 2017, it created Ikea Place, an app that uses augmented reality (AR) technology to let users view more than 2,000 products and virtually place true-to-scale 3D models in their homes to assess whether they fit and go with the other furnishings.

Eventi virtuali come esperienze digitali integrate

The pandemic has had an obvious effect on all those events that require a physical audience, with the complete disappearance of many events. In this period of physical stagnation, the events sector has moved online. Some events have gone beyond live streaming or webinars to propose experimental virtual events and integrated digital experiences. An interesting example of this is Hulu – an on-demand video internet service, which celebrated LGBT rights with an extraordinary virtual Pride Month. DJ sets, dance performances and cultural conversations, all available online by moving within a virtual space using a customised avatar.

Virtual tours to continue to offer education and culture.

Museums have been able to exploit the potential of a virtual experience, with many museums offering virtual visits of collections to compensate the fact that their doors are closed to the public. For example, the Vatican Museums have seven 360° degree virtual tours to allow “visitors” to enjoy art collections directly from their homes. Users can move around the rooms and focus on details of the individual works that are reproduced with high definition. The Uffizi Gallery has also embraced the online experience with a virtual project offering various theme-based tours to view the works of art in HD with clickable descriptions.

Il phygital come strumento di connessione

The digitalisation imposed by the global emergency has blurred the boundaries between the offline and online worlds to create a new experience. Aside from the need for greater technological drive, it is the approach to this issue that makes the difference. A screen has infinite potential, it is a window to multiple worlds. Screens can transport us anywhere at any time with a simple click. The problem is that this immediacy takes away some of an event’s specialness, that which makes it memorable. We need to build on the empathic element: feeling connected to a situation, experiencing something unique together with other people, at the same time. How do we create precious collective moments using the digital world while overcoming the physical limitations of a screen? By expanding our vision and merging the two worlds: digital and physical not as two separate worlds but blended to create a new extension of reality.

Phygital is not an addition to the physical world but a completely different experience

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