The Future of Retail in The Digital Transformation Era
With digital transformation accelerating around the world and affecting all aspects of our lives, the retail industry is experiencing a particularly large increase in online consumerism, especially in recent days, with the world being in the chokehold of Covid-19. The retail industry is now being dramatically transformed by technologies like the Internet of Things and mobile technology, which have brought about changes in how people shop and in their expectations of retail experiences.
Customers are now demanding retailers to provide more convenient shopping experience with a wider selection of relevant offerings, easier access, and simpler interfaces. Businesses are now looking for a way to meet the changing customer demands and cope with changing market conditions, especially since most brick and mortar stores, malls, and shopping centers are opting for a more prominent online presence. Today, retail designers and architects are also looking for innovative techniques to enhance competitiveness and keep the business going.
Here is how the retail industry will look like in the future, as we look into some of its advantages and disadvantages:
The Future of Retail
1- Most businesses will move online
For the past decade, retailers seem to have finally embraced online commerce. Global retail, in this period, moved online and was largely comprised of products that are relatively simple to transact, such as electronics, airline and event tickets, shoes, make up, clothes, and a range of other commodity items. This trend will only continue to move upward as the entire experience becomes more efficient for customers. This is because of the changing lifestyles and lack of time, where people would rather not spend hours driving to the market, shopping centers, and retail stores to pick up the stuff they need. Instead, they would rather order them online. Online stores are gaining more popularity because people are being offered much better prices and much wider choices, with almost everything being delivered to one’s home from any place in the world. And with Covid-19 spreading and putting people around the world in danger, there has been a big leap and shift towards online buying and selling because of social distancing and lockdown, especially because of the flexibility, convenience, better prices and comfort this process provides.
2- Physical shops will not cease to exist
Although online stores are still booming and, in a few years, the majority of our daily consumption will be transacted online, some businesses will still require a physical shop. In fact, some of the businesses that will remain resistant to e-commerce in Retail are automobiles, jewelry, real estate, pharmaceuticals, and home furnishings. Owners of such businesses still feel the need to maintain their brick-and-mortar shop. Jewelry, for instance, will always need to be checked closely to avoid fraud, while other items, such as big pieces of furniture will need a reliable and suitable shipping source. Some pharmaceutical products will also need doctor prescriptions that need to be checked physically to avoid putting patients in danger.
3- Artificial Intelligence in Retail Design and Construction
With the growing pressure to shift towards online retail, retailers are asking architects and retail designers to find new ways to merge physical and digital space to provide the public with new and enhanced experiences. This is why designers are looking for physical design responses and solutions to embrace the e-commerce phenomenon. Retail no longer revolves around products only. It now also revolves around the relationship between a business and its customers, where brick-and-mortar stores should be programmed to offer the same level of targeting and personalization offered online. This will mean using Artificial Intelligence to convert customer data into personalized experiences. Some of these include, but are not limited to:
a- Robots: As Artificial Intelligence becomes smarter, robots are only going to become more integrated in retail’s day-to-day operations, assuming greater roles and interacting with employees and consumers alike.
b- Digital Dressing Rooms: Virtual dressing rooms are the online, digital equivalent of an in-store fitting room. These rooms will enable shoppers to try on clothes virtually rather than physically and to check one or more sizes and styles, thus reducing returns and providing a more efficient online shopping experience.
c- Showrooming: Designing brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms is becoming a new trend, today. Showrooming is not a new concept in the world of retail. It traditionally meant that shoppers would visit brick-and-mortar stores to test and try products, but would ultimately purchase the products online, where they are able to save some money, and they can get the products shipped directly to their home. In the near future, brick-and-mortar stores will embrace showrooming, allowing customers to purchase products in-store and leave without the burden of holding shopping bags; the purchased products will arrive later at the shopper’s doorstep.
d- Interactive displays: By using interactive displays, retailers give customers the opportunity to interact with the products. For instance, immersive screens can help display more details about the item the customer picked. Interactive mirrors in fitting rooms can also give customers a chance to look through the store’s inventory, interact with the salesperson and make requests through the mirrors. The mirror can also make recommendations to customers about an item.
4- Shopping micro-cities
In the future, shopping centers will become hyperconnected micro-cities that could combine entertainment, wellness, learning, and personalized product-matching. Future shopping centers could feature silent rooms for reading and resting and activity rooms for workshops. In fact, shopping centers could transform into leisure places as well, providing special places for customers to enjoy all kinds of leisure activities. On the other hand, pop-up stores could also feature more and more in the shopping centers of the future, as they have become a go-to strategy for retailers for marketing, extending brands and introducing new products. At certain shopping malls, people could also find social media areas or virtual reality experiences that help draw people in and keep them around for a longer period of time.
The Pros and Cons of Online Retail
There are many advantages to doing business online. However, running an e-commerce business can also be challenging. Here are some of its pros and cons:
1- A Larger market: Online retail helps retailers reach customers all over the country and around the world. Customers can make a purchase anywhere and anytime in the world.
2- Low financial costs: Physical retail stores have to pay up thousands of dollars for rent, store signs, designs, inventory, equipment, and employees. Online retail has a lower startup cost. Business expenses are generally much lower in online retail, as the shop’s logo is lower and much more affordable than a shop’s sign. Online retail does not require bulk inventory either, which can help save up more money.
3- More potential income: One of the most important advantages in e-commerce is that online stores are always open for business. By being available at all hours, online retail helps retailers make more money and attract more people who have odd work schedules.
4- Access to customer data: One of the best ecommerce advantages is that it helps give access to data for analysis on your customer. This data will help get to know customers well and obtain more information from them to better serve them and provide better suggestions and recommendations.
5- Impulse buying: Costumers are more inclined to partake in impulse buying when browsing online shops. Having a great interface with good, interesting, and vibrant photos of the product can help promote and increase impulse buying, thus increasing profit.
1- Need for Internet access and site crashes: Customers of online shops need Internet access so they can purchase from the shops. Since many e-commerce platforms require high-speed Internet access for optimal customer experiences, visitors who have slow connections could get excluded from this experience. On the other hand, one of the worst e-commerce disadvantages is the inability to buy from online stores in the cases of site crashes. This is why hosting the website on the right platform is very important.
2- Credit card fraud: Payment fraud is an old problem that has been growing for quite some time and becoming more common in online retail. This problem can lead to chargebacks that lead to losses in revenue, bad reputation for the online shop, and penalties.
3- Security issues: Cybersecurity is an important issue for customers. It is important to avoid falling prey to malicious hackers who steal information from databases. This issue can have many legal and financial implications and is linked to waning trust in the business.
4- Shipping: While shipping is a big leap in the retail industry, it also has its cons and challenges, as packages can get lost, stolen, or broken. On the other hand, no matter how fast products are packaged, there is no guarantee that products will reach their destinations on time.
5- Price and product comparison: Online retail gives online shoppers the freedom and the time to compare prices and products and find the lowest prices and the best deals, forcing retailers to compete on price and reduce their profit margin.
Today, retailers and their architects and designers are facing a wide variety of challenges. In the era of technology, physical shops are starting to decrease, while online shopping is booming. It is important for retailers and their designers to work harder than ever to find innovative ways and more creative designs to keep shoppers coming back to the physical shops and create an ideal in-store atmosphere. Perhaps the most obvious solution for the retail industry is to blend and integrate both physical retail and e-commerce spaces together to create a seamless and comfortable costumer experience.