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Future retail: the resurgence of the store

The ultralounge a new london live music venue opens in selfridges music ...

Drapers takes a look forward to the trends and technology that will define the direction of stores for the next 100 years of fashion retail. 

Even if we’re not old enough to remember, perhaps the black and white films we’ve watched or the stories we’ve been fed by our grandparents make us feel nostalgic for the golden days of retail, when high streets were crammed with independent stores and walking into a store, to be greeted by the owner by name, made you feel all warm and lovely inside. 

The idea of this level of customer service – where customers are not a blank face but people whose lives and stories shop staff know inside out – is still a focal point of many independents today, and that’s what makes them such a treat to visit. But as many retailers expanded, they lost this magic. Personal customer service shot out the window as quickly as UK-produced goods. 

In a world where we walk into stores with our headphones in, is a return to those glory days possible? 

Certainly, says Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, who predicts a return to a more traditional way of retailing: “When you go to an independent coffee shop regularly, the staff know your name and remember what you like to order. When that happens, it makes you feel good. That kind of emotional connection to stores has been missing on the high street. It’s very difficult for retailers to replicate that on a big scale.” 

But with new technology available – as seen at Farfetch’s Store of the Future, which bridges the physical and online realms with customers’ data – the opportunity is there to personalise the experience once again. 

Rather than going to a store to buy product, it will be about product immersion. It will be the resurgence of the store

Steve Tooze, foresight editor at trend consultancy The Future Laboratory

When customers walk into a store in the future, staff will not only greet them personally, but they’ll be armed with a wealth of information about their style and the kind of clothes they’re looking for. If you have a summer holiday coming up, a retailer will know that, and put aside a selection of sandals and swimwear suited to your style. 

“Imagine creating that kind of personal shopping experience for every consumer and making them feel very special,” says Drinkwater. ”At the moment the luxury sector does it via a little black book. But they don’t know who anyone is beyond that book.” 

He believes the model can be replicated from luxury to the value end of the market: “This is an opportunity for everyone to feel like a VIP.” 

Scaling down

Right now, in the face of both an uncertain future because of Brexit and increasing spend online, many retailers are reassessing their store portfolios and scaling back. 

Yet one thing is certain: the future high street won’t be devoid of shops. Because for all that Generation Z have been brought up attached to their screens, they still crave face-to-face interaction. They love the store experience; it’s just the store itself will no longer be the same. 

“I think the idea of the death of the store has been greatly exaggerated,” says Steve Tooze, foresight editor at trend consultancy The Future Laboratory. “The store will become the purveyor of product, a glorified warehouse. We’ll see virtual reality and artificial intelligence [VR and AI] come into the store experience and, rather than going to a store to buy product, it will be about product immersion. It will be the resurgence of the store.” 

This is an opportunity for everyone to feel like a VIP 

Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion

Once the future consumer has decided which brands suit them – are aligned to their values and aspirations, as well as nailing their style – they’ll become super-loyal to them and message their friends to organise trips into town to visit these enticing experiential spaces. 

“Stores will become places where staff are brand fans and, rather than just the purveyor of products, tech will be integrated in there,” predicts Tooze. They’ll be re-imagined as a collision of technology and culture, he adds. He cites the Samsung store in New York’s Meatpacking District, which opened in 2016 and became a kind of playground/immersive experience. 

Flexible spaces

Some stores will become modular spaces. Burberry kickstarted this idea with gigs at its central London flagship several years ago, and Selfridges has continued the trend. This will continue as product becomes less of a focus. The physical store will be reinvented as an opportunity for something deeper and connected to the brand. 

Retailers will offer a slew of personal workshops, private exhibitions, club nights and music events, bringing the hottest artists – aligned with their brands, of course – to their stores. Customers will be half hanging out, drinking coffee and joining in a pottery workshop, before flicking through an edited selection of clothes hanging in the background. 

When we think of physical retail, we won’t just think of the store, either. Retailers will move into uncharted territory as they unlock ways to find new revenue streams. Right now small brands are turning up in hotels and co-working spaces – for example, menswear designer Donovan England popped up at co-working space WeWork, so freelancers and entrepreneurs could browse when they took a break from their laptops. 

Stores willl be re-imagined as a collision of technology and culture 

Steve Tooze, foresight editor at trend consultancy The Future Laboratory

Brands will find fresh ways and destinations to lure new followers as they head to where customers will be. 

“There will be mobile installations and more pop-ups on an ad hoc basis,” predicts Sabine Seymour, a futurologist and founder of wearables start-up Supa. “They’ll approach consumers in different ways. 

“[Today’s shoppers] have the digital experience but they’re demanding a physical experience that’s pretty cool. The fashion and retail space is in turmoil at the moment but there’s a lot of opportunity.”


Virtual reality will lure customers into store for immersive experience

Reality check

This store experience will be enhanced with the latest virtual reality (VR) technology. 

“Even in a small store, there will be the ability to create a world you can look into,” predicts Tooze. “It’s at least 10 to 15 years away, but brands will be able to install cutting-edge VR that people won’t be able to afford at home. 

There will be mobile installations and more pop-ups on an ad hoc basis

Sabine Seymour, a futurologist and founder of wearable technology start-up Supa

“Consumers will pop into stores for the best VR experience. So they’ll be running in the Highlands with a new pair of trainers, or seeing their favourite bands at the latest gigs. It will be a 3D multi-sensory experience.”

At the moment, there are issues surrounding the use of VR, notably the feeling of motion sickness it creates in some people. Within 10 years, though, retailers – and the tech firms they collaborate with – are expected to have resolved this to bring an immersive adventure to customers in store and lure shoppers to try an experience they can’t get elsewhere. 

People power

And store jobs will remain. For all the talk of retail robots, we won’t be greeted by robots when we buy our new-season wardrobe – unless it’s part of a playful PR event to create a buzz. 

Tooze says there is no convincing argument that automatons will replace store staff in the next 20 to 30 years: “Humans want emotional empathy and, if they come to the bricks-and-mortar store, they want care, enthusiasm and emotional intelligence from store staff. 

“The staff will be there but in a new role re-imagined as an event co-ordinator.” 

Armed with so much information, their role will be less about inventory, stock control and taking payments, and more about creating an experience that brings customers closer to brands in ways never imagined. 

Drones will continue to be an area retailers invest in. Whether for restocking the shop floors or behind the scenes in their warehouses, retailers see it as value for money. The technology could also take off for parcel deliveries, and goods could be dispatched as soon as we’ve placed our order. 

Given Amazon’s investment in drones, the etailer’s expansion in the UK and its increasing play into fashion, the US company is likely to be one of the first to make delivery by drones a possibility. Just overcoming the legal barriers and regulations will be the first hurdle they’ll need to fly over. 



Readers' comments (1)

  • Although some of this holds true, a lot is way off reality. Especially virtual reality. It won’t deliver for fashion. Particularly in a store. Cuckoo.

    Like beacons before it and where are those wearables Matt?

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