With an eye on the future of online retail, e-commerce firm SMITH says it’s investing millions of dollars in “SMITH Labs,” a new division launching in its Gatineau offices.
SMITH Labs will explore the application of emerging technology on traditional e-commerce experiences. The firm’s new division will experiment with motion detection, augmented and virtual reality, and develop applications for voice-activated shopping assistants.
Ten new hires have been brought on to launch SMITH Labs in Gatineau, with 15-20 peripheral team members contributing to Labs across SMITH’s global offices. The tech-focused division will spread to other locations in the future, though chief operating officer Fab DiCarlantonio told Techopia in May that Gatineau is the firm’s “tech centre of gravity.”
SMITH Labs is a “multimillion-dollar” project according to the firm, funded in-part by a series-B round raised last year. The firm declined to provide details on the exact level of funding closed in its latest round or how much would be allocated for SMITH Labs.
The project is part of the five-year strategic plan that SMITH developed when CEO Tony Steel joined roughly a year ago. Speaking to Techopia this week, Steel says SMITH Labs will constitute “the fabric underpinning SMITH.”
“This isn’t just about technology. It’s about the application of technology, blending the art and science together,” he says.
Steel, who readily calls himself a “bit of a science nerd,” says the goal of SMITH Labs is to use new technologies to deliver the experiences that brands and customers will come to expect.
The firm is developing applications that will work with automated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, and creating “holographic retail” stores where merchant and customer alike can share a mixed-reality space to view hologram-versions of products or decide on configurations.
“(These technologies) all come together to really allow for a different type of interaction with customers,” Steel says.
SMITH isn’t the only e-commerce player in town making moves into advanced technology. Shopify’s head of VR Daniel Beauchamp told a crowd at this year’s Capital Gaming Expo about the Ottawa firm’s vision for virtual reality. For example, customers would be able to put on a VR headset and walk inside a tent, getting a sense of space before buying.
SMITH Labs will have a dedicated space in the Gatineau offices, which are currently undergoing a renovation and expansion. The firm said in May that it was tight on space with 90 employees. Steel says the local headcount now stands “well north” of 100 people.