The Future of Retail in Beta

The Future of Retail in Beta

Posted on 31. Jul, 2014 by Jon Bird in Advertising, Consumer Trends, Design, Digital & Interactive, Retail Marketing, retail strategy, Retail Trends, Shopper Marketing

Put your ear to the ground and you can hear the future. That’s because the advance party has already arrived – we are living in an early beta version of what’s to come. But the rumblings you sense now are nothing compared to the earthquake on its way.

Steve Brown, Chief Evangelist and Futurist at Intel, believes that “there will be as much disruption in every sector in the next decade as has been experienced in the last 30 years in media and publishing.” Print in particular was relatively easy to play havoc with, reckons Brown, and now more complex categories are in for an overhaul.

With that provocative proclamation (chilling or challenging – you choose), Brown opened the WPP/Intel Futurecasting Summit that I attended at Intel’s headquarters outside Portland, Oregon.

Over the ensuing three days, a small group of retailers, marketers, designers, economists, researchers, and technologists set about inventing the future of retail. Or more specifically, the future of the shelf – with the term “shelf” used in the broadest possible sense to represent a retail offer that is presented either physically or digitally. But Day 1 was all about absorbing and debating the trends we are seeing right now – social, technical, economic, cultural.

“Science and technology have progressed to the point where what we build is only constrained by the limits of our imagination,” Brown said. He spoke of emerging concepts such as “dynamic media” that will reinvent the camera (yet again), by capturing numerous views from multiple lenses, allowing for amazing optimization and manipulation of images. But Brown also gave examples that had direct relation to retail.

We’ve all heard of 3-D printing, but how about “Mink”? It’s an invention of a Harvard graduate that will allow consumers to “print” an infinite variety of make-up, in any color they choose, in their own home. What might that do for the cosmetics counters in department stores? Or how about the app offered by automated apparel store Hointer that lets you nominate yourself as a “No Hello” shopper? It electronically says to sales staff “please don’t interrupt me, I just want to get in and out.”

Brown believes that we are entering a “smart, connected, sensing” world and that will have major ramifications for retail. Once data-dark stores, for instance, are being illuminated with information. Physical bricks and mortar environments are not only being seamlessly linked with online, but are becoming intelligent in their own right. From robots that roam the stores checking inventory, to shelves that make a judgment about the shopper in front of them, technology is transforming the ability of the store to better serve, anticipate, and respond to the needs of shoppers.

So far, so good. Now the only issue is that shoppers are not as acquisitive as they used to be! Jamie Gutfreund, Chief Marketing Officer of Noise, talked to our group about a new customer segment called “NOwners – those who have no need to own anything.” In the past, says Gutfreund, “ownership was aspirational.” Now, many consumers (perhaps better described as nonsumers?) value access over ownership. Hence the rise of a sharing economy, and services such as “Rent the Runway,” where you can rent your entire wardrobe and (presumably) only own your underwear.

More on that subject next week as I try to distil a three-day rush of ideas into a series of learnings. In the meantime, pay close attention to the new applications and concepts that are springing up every day. You can see the flickerings of the future in business ideas like “Uber,” “TaskRabbit” and “Wanelo”…they are the future in beta. Exciting times.

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