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Shopping’s Future May Be Bright, After All

Shopping’s Future May Be Bright, After All

Retail shopping keeps reporting poor sales figures. The discounts and bargains don’t always attract the volumes firms need for survival, and the catalogue of high street bodies pile up, with HMV, Comet, Jessops, Borders, Clinton Cards, Blockbuster, JJB Sports, MFI and Woolworths the most memorable.

HOWEVER, If all is doom and gloom on Britain’s high streets, why is web giant Google set to open a chain of physical stores right across the USA? What happens in America often follows this side of the Atlantic soon after.

Google Real Life Stores!

It’s expected that Google stores will sell Nexus tablets, Chromebook computers and a range of Android smartphones to the public directly. Presumably they will also develop interest in Google Glass and any other futuristic, next-generation projects.

This move will put them head to head with both Microsoft and Apple who maintain profiles on the shopping streets already. So, what’s going on if everybody keeps predicting the end of physical shops except as showrooms for the internet?

People are growing accustomed to looking at items in shops and then ordering them online, often without leaving the store but using their phones, aren’t they?

This new habit is called ‘show-rooming’ and is estimated to have been used by 25% of shoppers in the Christmas 12 week period. That can only grow, especially as it is prevalent among the under-40s.

Going With the Flow

The most successful retailers like John Lewis and Tesco are harnessing real and virtual stores in a mix that is at once fluid and irresistible. It is understanding how technology impacts and can be harnessed that is the key to survival initially and then prosperity.

Tesco’s five ‘dark stores’ are an illustration of how a retail leader is continuing to court controversy by acquiring pubs and other businesses to open community stores, while building massive warehouses with no customers that store the products for speedy delivery from online orders.

The consultancy Accenture in a report, Understanding the changing consumer made two telling points. People are increasingly online ‘interacting with companies and other consumers to research and purchase products, share advice and praise or criticise a business’, yet three quarters of business directors don’t understand the changes occurring and admit to failing to cash in on new technology’s advantages.

Brent Hoberman of online furniture retailer made.com told Matt Warman in the Daily Telegraph (24 January 13) for his latest assessment of the high street (from high street to iStreet) that visualisation technology will be used more and more. People upload floor-plans so they know what furniture will fit in, or what fabrics will suit, before they buy or even just look in a shop.

Companies have a small shop presence to supplement the web. He said, ‘big shops will become brand cathedrals’ and foresees small shops partnering ever more with larger suppliers to tailor locally but benefit from the global market.

Predicting Future Shopping Habits

Much of the media is busy shaping stories that predict what and how people will shop in the next twenty years. Kate Mansey and Claudia Croft did one in The Sunday Times (17  February) sub-headed ‘shops that text you as you walk past, in-store nightclubs and out of town supermalls. the fightback against the net starts here’.

This was a different angle of shops working with technology, rather a more defensive Mary Portas-style resistance. But little will be able to resist the onward march of technological changes.

On the person, on the move with gadgets, advancing social media, virtual reality to simulate clothing, accessories, rooms, food and whatever, newly refashioned stores that reflect high technology use, security and entertainment … the store future is all technology, whatever people may say or wish otherwise.

Shopping More Like the Cinema

Ian Pearson, a futurologist who wrote You Tomorrow told Jessica Winch of The Sunday Telegraph for an article about future jobs for 2030, there will be job growth in the field of augmented reality, where the real world is overlaid with computer-generated images.

He said, ‘In cyberspace, you can make a building look however you want.’  So high street shops could look like ‘Downton Abbey or be set in a post-nuclear apocalypse environment.’

If that is so, then shops can be changed constantly to shift perceptions to enhance the shopping experience and they have a financially viable place in our tomorrows as well as our yesterdays.

At the check-out counter:

The Sunday Telegraph, Jessica Winch, ‘Forget banking, be a nano-medic’, 24 February 2013

The Daily Telegraph, Matt Warman, ‘The future of shopping, from high street to iStreet’, 24 January 2013

The Smartphone is Becoming the Asset That’s Just Too Big to Lose, 14 January 2013

Does Facebook Have Friends in All the Right Stores? 30 August 2012

When Photographic Reality Isn’t Enough, 22 February 2012

Augmented Reality Changes Shopping Virtually Forever, 28 November 2011

Image: Humanoo