The high-street is dying, or at least that's what we're told, but in reality the high-street will always be there – it's just that in the future its role will have changed.
No longer will we see stores as we know them today, instead we'll find customer experiences and information outlets – all focused entirely around informing the customer and ensuring they can buy online and grab it in store.
Of course, this arrangement doesn't suit everyone. Many customers want to walk into a store and leave fulfilled, having bought the product they set out to find. Online and future retail won't ever alleviate this problem – with London's one-hour delivery service, Shutl, possibly being the closest we'll get to instant online delivery.
So what does the future of retail hold? And how will it be carried out?
Here are five points for what we think will be the future of retail.
Stores will no longer need lots of stock
While that may sound absurd at first, as we move forward on-site stock won't become an issue as many people will be arriving in store to pick up an online ordered product.
In fact, the number who are shopping in-store will be reduced as customers arrive to look and test or try on the physical items before ordering them to their home address via their mobiles or in-store ordering terminals.
It's not a farfetched idea either as 92 per cent of UK residents own a mobile phone, and 96 per cent of shoppers admit to researching a product on their mobile before making a purchase. What's interesting is that, according to Webloyalty figures from 2012, 92 per cent of shoppers say they still use physical stores – meaning that a future where a store is little more than a showroom and pick-up centre isn't that absurd to believe.
If a customer does come in for a browse and finds that an item isn't available, or that the range on offer seems small, a handy augmented reality application could provide an insight into everything available online – along with the various colours and fits available to be ordered in and picked up.
Stores will become education and experience centres
In the future – although it's already beginning to happen now with AsianPaints' Colour Stores and Bonobos Guideshops – stores will become places to educate customers into making the right purchase, which will be made elsewhere.
Of course, this begs the question as to why a customer doesn't just go to another store to snap up the same product but cheaper. Experience stores would make the entire process effortless for a customer, therefore leading them to purchase from a company with ease.
Both Bonobos and AsianPaints create an online basket or an RFID tag that means when you go to their online store, or another outlet, you can find exactly what you were guided through. It means the barrier for a customer to search and reorganise their basket is reduced – most will just purchase them because it works out as the easier option.
These stores also provide an experience for the consumer, meaning they'll come back again and again to get the knowledge they need to make the right choice. It essentially produces customer loyalty.
Retail shopping will become 24/7
It's already the case when it comes to online retail, but soon it'll be present in the physical stores as customers want to be able to make purchases all day, every day – preferably with shorter waiting periods for their item to be delivered.
This is already creeping in with Adidas Germany's innovative "window shopping" store, or the German grocery store Emmas Enkel – both of which allows users to make purchases â€˜in-store' while the outlets are closed via those infuriating QR codes and touchscreen interfaces.
Moving to the more extreme applications, Augmented Reality allows online-only stores like China's Yihaodian to create always open stores inside physical environments – while users shop with their augmented reality applications.
Shopping will become far more personal
Online stores already try this with their "Hello xxxxx" at the top of a page when you've logged in – along with a list of items they think might be relevant, or of interest to you based on shopping history. But this is all entirely basic and analytics based. Just because I bought a rubber duck once for a friend, it doesn't mean I'm interested in purchasing a multitude of bath products again.
In the future sites and retailers will be able to know this and help you out far more than they already do.
Online stores can implement a more personal approach already by drawing up items gathered from purchases in other stores online via a unified payment account – such as PayPal. From here a better picture of what a customer has purchased can be drawn up and therefore better offers can be given to an individual.
This could also be done in store with a loyalty card capturing previous shopping history. A scanner by the door could log a customer into the shop – especially if it utilised some sort of RFID tag or NFC technology – and a staff member with a tablet would be able to identify them and see their previous shopping history. Naturally, this would allow them to provide a better level of customer service and personalisation to the shopping experience – rather like shopping used to be.
Shopping will be far more social
Social media is growing fast and companies are still trying to jump aboard and utilise each channel effectively. Those who are on Twitter won't want the same experience as those on Facebook, Vine or even Google + (if anyone besides businesses actually use that). This means that targeting a campaign or encouraging customers to shop with you could be a minefield – as Disney discovered in a Facebook campaign. But why not let your customers do the social networking for you?
After all, they're the ones who know what platforms reach their friends and followers best. They're the ones who know who to target and who's interested. It's also a lot cheaper to run and manage – and easier to handle damage control and sort problems out when things to awry.
Already, some stores are doing this, with Quicksilver in South Africa running a "Spaaza My Price" promotion. Here, customers are given a discount based upon their Klout score. The higher your Klout, the bigger the discount, and further discounts can be gained through Tweeting and sharing the news of your purchase. It also works like a loyalty card, racking up points each time you visit.
What do you think of these points?
Do you think they’re farfetched ideas that won't become a reality?
Let me know by leaving a comment with you thoughts in the box below.
You can find out more about the future of retail by attending the upcoming Europe's Customer Festival 2013 – where the big names in European retail will be delivering their thoughts on what's to come and how best to adapt.
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