When brick-and-mortar stores look to the future of retail, they usually focus on trends over the next year as they try to position themselves for a great winter holiday shopping season. A March 2017 report from Synchrony Financial takes a longer view of the retail industry based on current technology and what customers want to see in their stores by 2030.
The study surveyed more than 1,000 shoppers 18 and older through a series of online discussions, half-day workshops and focus groups. What the future of retail beholds for brick-and-mortar stores is less about competing with e-commerce models and more about offering something that online retailers cannot. As many as 55 percent of respondents said they want in-store engagement and entertainment options. Instead of traditional sales clerks that simply try to sell items, customers want people to advise them and make the shopping experience fun and engaging.
The move towards consultation and fun comes from the fact that many shoppers already know what they want from inside the store. Online reviews and inventory listings on store websites lead to more self-service outside of brick-and-mortar stores before consumers even enter a location. All that's left is for shoppers to pick their items, scan them and go. The checkout process becomes automated through apps on smartphones and in-store technology. Consumers can scan items with their phones and walk out the door with them as the smartphone deducts payments from their online accounts.
There's no need to head to a checkout counter or talk to sales clerks about what items are on the shelf, which is why in-store engagement is critical to get people in the door for these locations. Technology makes this self-service paradigm happen. Expect smartphones to have RFID scanners to locate items in stores. Meanwhile, the same RFID tags let consumers purchase the items without going to a checkout counter. Once the purchase happens, the in-store security system recognizes the purchase and knows that items with those tags don't set off the alarm. Brick-and-mortar stores also take advantage of wearable technology and biometrics for purchases, personalization and in-store experiences.
Data and analytics are what hold the customer experience together. When someone walks into a store with an app on a smartphone, wireless hubs in a store can recognize the person and make suggestions for purchases. The app accesses the person's personalized account, preferences and payment options from perusing online, and the store uses that information to enhance the overall customer experience.
Not Something for Everyone
Up to 57 percent of consumers don't expect one store to have everything they need. Instead, they expect specialization. Shoppers want brick-and-mortar stores to focus on fewer products while delivering those products really, really well. If someone goes to a soccer store, every person who works there should be well-versed in soccer equipment, gear, training and everything someone needs to take soccer skills to a new level. The same goes for coffee, books, shoes, handbags and perfume. Rather than a one-size-fits-all store, consumers want a store that specializes in one specific category of products.
Brick-and-mortar stores have a future, so long as they adapt to what consumers want. Stores should start adapting to the future now, lest they go the way of Kmart or Sears.
Photo courtesy of jheffry swid at Flickr.com