We're surely into the online era now but when we talk about the future of retail, we cannot margin out brick and mortar stores altogether! There are multiple reasons for stores beyond the online medium to exist. Various studies and observations indicate this:
- “Offline is the dominant retail form - for nearly two-thirds of consumers, brick-and-mortar retail outlets are the most important places to shop.” – From a study of 40,000 people in Germany. (ref)
- Two-thirds of Australians reporting that they prefer “brick and mortar” retail stores. (ref)
- “About half of would-be customers would not order apparel online because they wanted to feel the merchandise.” (ref)
- “90 percent of sales still happen in physical stores, so there is a huge, compelling reason to think about the physical store as a driver of sales.” - Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research. (ref)
Therefore, on one hand, if we are observing many brick-and-mortar stores opening e-commerce sites; on the other hand, we are witnessing a change of mindset of the eCommerce enterprises. For example, Andy Dunn, from apparel company Bonobos, started out in 2007 by saying that “stores were a bad economic decision.” However, come 2012 and Bonobos has already opened its sixth store in Manhattan.
Rumors of the possibility that Google will be opening physical stores are also flying around. eBay and Etsy are also testing temporary stores. Piperlime, the Gap Inc. unit that was online only for six years, opened a SoHo store in 2012. So, if online stores are hitting the roads and building physical stores, does it imply that we will have the same old brick-and-mortar buildings with the same old buying experiences that we’ve always known?
No. That is where some of the most interesting and fascinating innovations are taking place!
Hointer has no over-solicitous sales assistants, no confusing piles of clothes and no endless lines at the tills. Instead, only one of each style of jeans is displayed on the shop floor. Shoppers use a smartphone app to scan items they wish to try on, and choose a size and color.
The app sends a message over the Internet to a robotic system in the stock room. This locates a pair in the correct size and uses tensioned cables to drop it into a basket in one of the shop’s six large dressing rooms. The whole process took less than the time needed to walk to the fitting room, i.e., around 30 seconds. If the jeans fit, the customer can simply put them in a bag, swipe their credit card through a reader and walk out of the door without ever interacting with a single other person.
The IdentityMine store concept connects store associates and consumers both inside and outside of brick-and-mortar stores. Designed in partnership with Microsoft, an app on shoppers’ phones allows them to create a shopping list visible to store associates. Before a store visit, customers can browse the inventory while being supported by staff with targeted deals, product suggestions, and the ability to send questions to store associates. Customers check in when they arrive at a physical store, alerting staff members and syncing their user profiles, shopping lists, and purchase history. Staff can then reach out to shoppers via intra-app messages in order to offer help and expertise. Connected signage and digital kiosks let shoppers “throw” content and wish lists from their app on to larger screens in order to enjoy enhanced browsing and customer service.
With brands altering their sizes according to random standards, shopping sometimes becomes a guessing game. MyBestFit eases this confusion by offering a free full-body scan at shopping malls to determine what size and style fits customers best among the various ready-to-wear brands. In about 10 seconds, a customer can step into the Size Matching Station and be scanned for body measurements!
Kraft has teamed up with Intel to create a recipe recommendation kiosk that scans your face and then delivers you meal suggestions. The Meal Planning Solution combines the functionality of a self-service kiosk with an interactive retail experience. It can be used to obtain recipes, shopping suggestions, promotional coupons and product samples. Shoppers can tell the machine what sort of meal they are looking to create -- a posh dinner or a quick weekday meal. If they swipe their supermarket loyalty cards, they can also get meal recommendations based on their past shopping history.[x]
Robot Restaurant, in the Heilongjiang province of China, has a staff of 20 robots that cook, serve and entertain the restaurant’s guests! The restaurant opened in June 2012 and has since become a novelty spot in the province's capital. The robot staff operates through tracks on the floor, which lead from the kitchen and down the aisles between tables. The menu includes dumplings and noodles and is prepared by the robots. After a customer orders, a robot sings near the table while their food is being cooked.
Based on these in-store trends, technology innovations and people preferences that we have been observing, we bring two future scenarios that will stimulate you to think on what the future will be like.
Future Scenario 1:
Peter walks into the mall but does not at any of the old-fashioned stores. He directly goes to the Experience Zone. He goes inside one of the Arenas inside the Experience Zone and gets ready with the set-up. He is given a set of Google glasses and an Electronic Arm Sleeve. He starts the Arena module - a hiking trip to the Alps. He is given a default set of “virtual” accessories. He slips hard and realizes that the hiking shoes are too heavy for his body. So, he goes for a change to lightweight hiking shoes. He does not like his hiking glasses - too nerdy, so he gets another pair in funky colors! Finally, he also chooses a different styling for his jacket. He comes out of the Arena. While he savors a cup of coffee that has been brewed according to his social media preferences, his choice of clothes and accessories are all packed and ready to be taken. He tweets a payment , picks up his bags and heads off for his trip to the Alps - the actual fun is yet to begin!
Future Scenario 2:
Liu wants to make her boyfriend’s birthday very special! She wants to gift him a customized shirt and an exotic cake. However she wants to make her own cake and does not want to buy it from a bakery. She goes to the nearby supermarket. As soon as she enters, the Wel-bot meets her and asks her, “Welcome Liu! Did you like your biking shoes? What would you like to buy today?” Liu tells him that the shoes were perfect for the long ride. She also tells him her requirements. He tells her to sit in the viewing gallery. Wel-bot comes in with a selection of shirt materials and shows her the styling and look on the 3D projection of Liu’s boyfriend. Liu likes the color-changing linen stitched in Martian styled collar. By the time the stitching order goes forward for processing the Wel-bot shows Liu various options for baking an exotic cake. Liu settles for Amrula Almond cake - all the ingredients are forwarded for checkout and the recipe gets forwarded to Liu’s microwave. Liu makes her payment and collects the shopping bags - ingredients for the cake and an awesome shirt (gift-wrapped in her favorite red).
If you have one of your own exciting scenarios, feel free to comment.
If you would like to know more about trends and innovations in Retail and also read on more future scenarios then download our full report on Future of Retail from here.
The Institute of Customer Experience is a not for profit initiative by Human Factors International Inc. started in 2012 with a vision to create a knowledge platform for designers, technopreneurs and innovators. ICE has as its mission as: