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The Future of Retail
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The Future of Retail
 
This article will focus on how the way we shop is changing. It will discuss the evolution of new methods of shopping, along with new shopping trends and habits. 
 
 
High Street
 
The future of retail is definitely no longer reflected in the high street as we previously recognised it. The “old” dynamics of retail shopping with big brands like Woolworths and HMV attracting swathes of customers who make purchases of big-ticket items from bricks and mortar shopping outlets are no longer at play. Some people are calling this “the death of the high street”. 
 
Most analysts agree that the lion’s share of retail purchases are now made online with customers enjoying more competitive prices and a better, more streamlined shopping experience available through online outlets. 
 
Online outlets make it possible for shoppers to buy using their tablets, mobile phones and desktop computers, with fast and convenient delivery and returns – all for a lower overall price. 
 
High Street outlets are feeling the financial pinch of these changes and the result is that many are closing, with many businesses bankrupted. Previously successful bricks and mortar businesses can’t afford to sustain the costs of maintaining their physical premises, when online retailers with less operational costs are able to undercut them in terms of pricing for similar items. 
 
It isn’t all doom and gloom for offline outlets. Many are fighting back against the trend towards online retail purchases. For example, Waterstones is focusing on creating a certain type of experience for customers shopping for books shopping, by developing a range of services like coffee shops, their own brand coffee, book clubs and offers that are only available in the bricks and mortar store. These subtle, but highly savvy changes are keeping brands like Waterstones financially buoyant, in the face of tough conditions for retailers. 
 
What is emerging from these “new” dynamics for retailers are a raft of changes around the whole process of shopping – people are shopping differently, using new methods, platforms and trends. 
 
Read on to see a few of these discussed. 
 
 
New Shopping Trends – Mobile Versus Desktop Shopping
 
New shopping trends can be exploited by savvy online retailers. For example, if we look behind the statistic that most retail spend is now online and consider the different platforms and interfaces (like desktop, mobile and tablet) that are being used to make purchases, some interesting and highly exploitable trends emerge. 
 
Did you know, for example, that although most retail spend is online, the retail spend being made through mobile and tablet interfaces is much greater than that made through desktop interfaces? It isn’t just greater – the trend towards mobile purchases as opposed to desktop purchases is growing at an exponential rate. 
 
This trend tells the savvy retailer of the importance of mobile optimisation for their websites. 
 
 
New Trends To Draw Customers Into Bricks And Mortar Outlets 
 
You would think that retailers would largely respond to the “death of the high street” by shutting up shop and moving online, wouldn’t you? A lot of retailers are doing and have done this, but a large number of retailers are staying put, and implementing new strategies to make their bricks and mortar premises more attractive to shoppers. 
 
So, what are these retailers doing – what are some ways to make a bricks and mortar outlet more attractive to a shopper? 
 
(i) Provide shoppers with state of the art, in-house customer experiences using 3D modeling to ensure products can be matched exactly to a customer’s requirements. 
(ii) Provide them with innovative digital displays, which are interactive, like the systems currently under development at the London College of Fashion’s innovation agency, which allow customers to interact with catwalk collections of clothes and accessories, using virtual reality holograms. 
(iii) Simple in-house attractions like face painting for kids and coffee shops for adults. 
(iv) Virtual reality systems like those available in Adidas stores which make it possible to try on clothes without actually having to take your clothes off! These systems make the whole process of getting different sizes and colour options easier, as different options can be ordered from the VR station – also dispensing with the need to put your clothes back on and go back out onto the shop floor and search for the different options you are interested in.
(v) Interactive systems, which prompt and advise on products to suit different customers – like the one available for Charlotte Tilbury makeup customers. This brand has designed a “magic mirror” that customers can use. The customer then sees an image of themselves displayed on a large screen, and it is possible to see different products and types of makeup applied to the image shown. This dispenses with the need to apply and remove different makeup products. The “magic mirror” also uses the interactive experience to create a set of personalised recommendations for customers, who can shop for these quickly and conveniently using the interactive display. 
 
 
AI And Personal Assistance 
 
Artificial intelligence and AI personal assistants are being used to give shoppers a more personal experience in shopping. These are used in both online retail outlets and in bricks and mortar premises. 
 
The personal assistant gives the shopper vital information at the touch of a button and therefore dispenses with the need for shoppers to go looking for “human” assistants who may be tied up helping other customers. 
 
Again, these types of systems can be used to capture vital data from customers and make a set of personalised recommendations for them, subtly advertising new products to people who are likely to be interested in them. 
 
 
More Convenient Payment Options For Shoppers 
 
For retailers, basket abandonment is very problematic. Researchers suggest that much of the problem is caused by customer frustration at being asked for too much information prior to being allowed to progress to the payment screen (most systems require an email address, for example). 
 
This problem is being addressed with new trends surrounding payment making. Shoppers are now able to use automated pay stations in bricks and mortar outlets, which dispense with the need to queue up and pay for goods instore. Online retailers usually have apps, which can be used to store payment information conveniently to make repeat purchases rapidly, securely and conveniently. 
 
 
Apps 
 
Retailers are developing apps that assist with the whole process of shopping. The app can be downloaded to a mobile phone and it streamlines the shopping process for the customer. It gathers data that is used to enhance the shopping experience of the customer. This makes it easier for relevant recommendations to be made to individual shoppers. 
 
The apps makes the experience of returning to shop with a given brand, easier for the customer as payment information is captured and retained within the app, in addition to delivery information and delivery preferences. 
 
 
Shopping Hubs Versus Shopping Centres
 
A new trend that has emerged is the shopping centre as more of a lifestyle centre, than a place to shop. These shopping centres have emerged in countries like Germany and the idea is that shoppers are enticed into the shopping centre with benefits like free wifi and free work stations, so they can use the shopping centre to work and socialise, as well as shop. 
 
The idea of shopping becomes incidental to many shoppers, but that doesn’t really damage brands and bricks and mortar outlets because they benefit from increased footfall and free advertising to the people who frequent these new types of malls. 
 
Another new type of mall is one that allows shoppers to enter the car park, park up and then have robots pick and pack their purchases. This system is proving popular with bricks and mortar outlets who are already under a lot of financial pressure due to the trends surrounding online retail spend, because the cost of a retail lease for storage of stock and car parking is minimal compared to the costs for more traditional types of malls.
 
 
Shopping Through Instagram
 
Social media is increasingly becoming attuned to the idea of their platforms being used for buying and selling. Instagram is a prime example, with the whole platform being overhauled recently to allow users to display a shopfront and to allow for shoppers to make purchases in a streamlined and convenient way. 
 
 
People Are Shopping Differently, And Retailers Need To Adapt In Order To Survive
 
The death of the high street is something that has changed the dynamics of shopping forever . That said, the High Street is adapting fast, tempting people to shop in physical shops with novel experiences, highlighting the advantage of being able to try things on, instore and providing exciting technologies like 3D modelling and hologram customer service screens which enhance the experience of shopping in physical stores. 
 
As such, it doesn’t appear that the future of retail will be a complete disappearance of high street stores, rather the high street is likely to continue to exist, albeit with a more customer - centric approach and more of a focus on experiences for shoppers that can’t be replicated in the dynamics of online shopping. 
 
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