Retailers Invite Students To Hack The Way Consumers Shop

Each year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts over 1,000 "hackers" – tech-savvy students – on campus for HackMIT. The event brings the next generation of tech talent together with companies looking for innovative solutions to the challenges they may face in real world business operations.

This year, RILA's (R)Tech Center for Innovation partnered with Qurate Retail Group to sponsor a retail-focused challenge at the hackathon. Qurate Retail Group, which is comprised of eight leading retail brands including QVC, HSN, zulily, Ballard Designs, Frontgrate, Garnett Hill, Grandin Road, and Improvements, came to Boston looking to tap the cutting edge in tech talent and creativity of students. They teamed up with Brand3D to provide 3D technology assets and environments to inspire students – but were looking for the most creative ways to engage customers, create new shopping experiences, and to change the way businesses operate. Amber Otero, Vice President of Customer Journey led the Qurate Retail Group team as they brought a retail perspective to the tech firm dominated weekend.
To kick-off the event, Qurate Retail Group sponsored an interactive workshop centered around video retailing and 3D augmentation. Students learned how to use gamification and 3D modeling to manipulate objects and apply that to their projects. Qurate Retail Group also highlighted the team's business goals and how the ideas presented could be applied to drive consumer engagement.

Hackers had the opportunity to engage with the Qurate Retail Group sponsor table by grabbing some cool swag, learning about IT internship and sponsor opportunities, and asking for help on technical questions related to their projects.

In the end, three teams walked away with Qurate Retail Group prizes. The grand prize went to a team that created a life size gamification tool that utilizes live stream messaging to manipulate a remote machine and view the results happening in real time. This group will have the opportunity to present at Qurate Retail Group's headquarters and receive a VIP tour. The runner up teams created a 3D shopping environment that can be personalized to the shopper, and a way to video conference in virtual reality with hologram like avatars, respectively.

The main takeaway from HackMIT? Students are starting to interact with retail differently. While the initial instinct is for technology and computer science students to set their sights on Silicon Valley for post-graduate plans, more students are seeing the retail industry as a great pathway to pursuing a career in tech.

Participating in collegiate hackathons is just one component of the (R)Tech Talent Pipeline strategy, which exposes and attracts young people with tech backgrounds – data science, engineering, behavior science, design, and strategy – to opportunities in retail. For more information or to get involved, contact RILA's Manager of Research & Innovation Katie Nicholos.

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