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7 ways in which the retail landscape might dramatically change over the next few years

By FashionUnited

15 Jun 2015


With online shopping at an all time high - the e-commerce market is in fact set to grown by a whopping 320 billion pounds between now and 2018 - and clothes design more innovative than ever, we’ve come a long way in fashion over the past decade alone. But what's in store for the future?

From virtual body scanning to ensure you always find the right size online, to downloading your purchase and 3D printing it in the comfort of your own home, a few of the possibilities on the horizon were discussed at the recent Decoded Fashion London Summit.

1. Shopping social networks

Forget shopping via targeted Facebook ads or just liking the outfits your friends have been tagged in - entire social networks are now being dedicated to fashion lovers and their favourite pursuit.

Net-A-Porter has just launched its own invite-only social network app called The Net Set, where people can follow their style icons, see status updates direct from designers and fashion brands, connect with fellow fashion lovers, and easily add any Net-a-Porter.com item shared on the network to their shopping bag.

Similarly, Egyptian-based social network Slickr, which is due to be available in the UK soon, is also dedicated to shopping and the sharing of style inspiration, with images of products that can all be easily bought direct from brands such as Levi’s. 'Historically, shopping was a social pass time,' says Alexandra Hoffnung, Creative Director of Social Commerce at the Net-A-Porter group. 'E-commerce has since become less about the social aspect - it's now more about the what and less about the who. We want to put the social back into shopping.'

2. Virtual shopping assistants

For a taste of what else the future holds for shopping, just look to American fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff's recently opened New York boutique. Branded a 'store of the future', customers are met by a giant touch-screen which lets them firstly order a beverage, and then browse the collections virtually. Anything that takes their fancy can be added to their basket, and after typing in a mobile number, shoppers will be alerted via text message minutes later, when all their chosen garments have been brought to a fitting room ready to be tried on.But the clever tech doesn't end there. Each garment in the store is fitted with tiny electronic tags, which can be read by the digital mirrors in the cubicles.

As they try on garments, customers can ask the mirror for designer Rebecca's suggestions on how to style each item, or for other products that would match well. Uri Minkoff, company CEO, calls the concept Shopping 3.0, while revealing that the system has seen the brand sell two and half times more clothes than they had been previously. And while store staff are on hand to help where needed, the next step for the 'store of the future' - according to the Minkoff team - is customer self-checkout. If they can find an effective way to limit the theft risks involved, that is.

3. Body scanning technology

Returns are the bane of online shopping for both customer and retailer alike. But, new body scanning technology is on its way to eliminate the sizing discrepancies which currently exist between different stores and brands.

Pioneered by companies like Bodi.Me, the technology can work in two ways. One - customers measure themselves the old fashioned way, and then enter their details into their online Bodi.Me profile. The more advanced, and likely more accurate option however, is that people visit a 'body scanner event', where the dimensions of their entire body will be digitally scanned into the system.

Once information is stored, they can then shop various brands through the Bodi.Me site (for this to work, retailers will also need to have signed up for the service), and when it comes to choosing the size Bodi.Me will advise on best fit. For example, a shopper may not know that they’re a size 10 in Whistles but a size 12 in Topshop. Bodi.Me will though - thanks to it having access to the specs of each size for each store.

4. Sensory technology for textures

Very soon, technology may allow for a sensory touch-pad, which will use electronic pulses to recreate the textures of fabric on the skin of the remote shopper. This is likely a way off yet, but at the Decoded London Summit, journalist, author and consultant Katie Baron spoke about the very real possibilities. She cited the Prototype Haptic Sensory Tablet created by Fujitsu Laboratories as one key example, which has found a way of conveying the tactile sensations of roughness, bumpiness and smooth, using ultrasonic vibrations on the surface of the touchscreen display. In other words, when a user touches the screen as an image is displayed, their fingertips are treated to an electronic simulation of the real life feel of that image.

5. At home 3D printing

Possibly one of the most radical developments of our time, 3D printing is now being talked about as something we may all one day be doing at home. Rather than buy a garment online and waiting for the retail company to box it up and send it out to you, the idea is that shoppers will simply pay for a downloadable file containing data about the product.Once it's been emailed, the thinking is that customers will then send it to their own personal 3D printers, and a little while later there the garment will be - freshly created in our own homes.

Shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood was keen to discuss the potential of this technology at the Decoded Fashion London Summit, noting how it would not only cut down on shipping costs, but also help push the speed at which garments could be created. 'I think [3D printing] is something we'll all adapt to. A problem in fashion at the moment is that as soon as something comes of the catwalk it's been seen everywhere, and by the time it hits stores three to six months later it already looks old, or you've been knocked off by high street stores.’

6. The return of catalogues

Shop Direct may have just called time on the old school Littlewoods catalogue following 80 years of at home browse-buying, but that's unlikely to be the end of catalogues per se. Instead of hefty paper tombs being delivered door to door, the catalogues of the future are heavily stylised digital lookbooks, that can be emailed or simply shared via a clickable link.

As you browse the virtual book, images will move like videos, allowing you get a more realistic idea of what the garment is like. Each image is also clickable, so that you can buy it straight away and pay online. Brands like Monsoon, Uniqlo and Matalan have already dipped their toes into this kind of shopping experience, using platforms designed by creative tech company Ceros.

7. Universal shopping baskets

Based on the technology currently being used by popular taxi booking app Uber, the idea behind universal shopping baskets is that you could browse an unlimited number of different shopping sites, and only pay once for everything you want all in one go. It would require card details being saved on devices such as laptops, phones and tablets, plus software that could tie together a person’s entire session browsing together.

Naturally, data security will need to be paramount, and so it's likely that this form of shopping will be approached by many with trepidation. Once a universally secure system has been created however, this could revolutionise the way we currently shop online, by speeding up checkout times and breaking down boundaries between different retail sites.

Written by Amy Lewis

Online Shopping
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