- Georgie Lillington |
In an internet fuelled society, retailers are having to rethink ways of creating an authentic experience for their customers, whilst attempting to match online sales. With the rise of technologies, such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and mixed sensory experiences as well as the launch of superfast 5G internet by 2020 - the question is no longer if the retail industry will see disruption, but when.
Future trends in retail stores was one of the key discussion points at this weekend’s Modefabriek, the largest fashion trade fair in The Netherlands. Exploring these ideas at MF talks were industry specialists Richard Lamb, trend watcher and futurologist and Ronny De Vylder, a creative visualizer and trend spotter in cities across the world.
FashionUnited has rounded up three main takeaways, highlighting the disruptive areas of the fashion retail industry and what the future may hold.
1. Using technology to create an authentic experience
New store concepts using the latest technologies such as Amazon’s ’No Line, No Checkout’ Go store. are currently in the pipeline. Using an app that tracks your purchases, customers will be able to pay using their Amazon accounts upon leaving the store, without ever having to pass through a checkout point. Experts like Richard Lamb are contemplating the future of concepts like this - asking will it work for consumers who prefer human interaction? There are often numerous technological issues which come with implementing new electronic systems as they struggle to imitate the exact job of a human. For example, Amazon is postponing the opening of it’s Amazon Go store, because the technology designed to replace employees at the checkout is not working properly yet.
Another advance in retail technology sees machines being used in stores that can identify shopping items when they are placed on the machine (effectively a table), according to Lamb. These machines let customers learn more about the item, complete a purchase and even preview an outfit on their own body. Some even have dressing rooms which appear from the ceiling with just a click of a button - effectively creating an authentic shopping experience for the customer. These machines are adding value for the customer, but are usually accompanied by an in-store employee which seems to be a much more logical step in adopting new technologies in stores.
Lamb believes that personalised communication could be the way to consumers hearts. This is evident in the rise of retailers and brands tapping into social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. By offering customer recommendations and personalised information in response to consumer's locations and other shopping habits, retailers can use data gained online to encourage customers to buy more items in store. However retailers are warned they should approach this method with caution, as the technology could be seen as intrusive to customers as oppose to helpful.
Despite skeptics believing that brick-and-mortar stores may eventually become obsolete, replaced by their online alternatives, they neglect to mention that shopping remains a form of entertainment - a fun experience that creates memories - something that cannot always be fulfilled online. The question is how do retailers combine the two to create a seamless retail experience for customers. Can the rise of artificial intelligence in the form of AI chatbots and sales assistants really create an authentic experience?
2. "Technology and automation will never fully take over the retail industry"
However, retailers should not be overly dependent on technology when it comes to customer service, as there are certain areas which cannot be replicated using technology alone. Take for example leading department store Isetan in Japan. During his talk De Vylder praises this premium department for its unparalleled customer service. Funeral services, sleep advisors, shoe counsellors and kimono consultants are just some of the specialist services offered by Isetan. This is the perfect example of a brick-and-mortar store using its expertise to reach its full potential for customer service and experience, without overly depending on technology.
Despite the amount of retail innovations, Lamb confirmed that “technology and automation will never fully take over the retail industry.” In addition not every retailer has the opportunity to implement new systems or the desire to.
3. Use of technology is not desirable for all stores and their customers
Many retailers and brands are not interested in adding new technologies in stores and believe that a more traditional approach is needed in order to gain customer satisfaction. The reverse is also true as there is a number of consumers who prefer human interaction to fulfill their in-store experience over technological advancements, “There are people from each generation that ‘see through’ the use of digital - such as an automated chatbot on a website - for want of authentic attention,” added Lamb. In particular those from an older generation, such as the Baby-Boomers, as they tend to be more unaware of technological advancements and would rather not see changes made to their favoured stores.
However, retailers who do not succumb to technological pressures and make the needed changes could be left behind in a shifting industry. With huge retail players like Amazon taking the majority of the market, only specialist retailers will be left with a place in the industry. Lamb believes that only brick and mortar store to remain profitable in the future is the concept store - one that offers a unique experience to customers and a reason to visit. Whether that be a brick-and-mortar or virtual concept store.