What will the retail industry look like in ten years’ time? Just imagine if you had a crystal ball and could take a look at the shopping experience and the latest retail technologies being used in 2028.
Will we still use shopping malls and supermarkets or will the bulk of our shopping be done online and on mobile? And what might a decade of research and development into artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and mixed reality technologies and other new innovations lead to in the retail sector?
These are the kinds of questions that the major US retailer such Walmart and global shopping mall specialist Westfield are asking themselves right now, with both retail giants recently revealing a few tantalising glimpses of what they envisage the retail industry looking like in 2028.
And these are all vital questions to ask right now, as we are currently living through a period of rapid change and uncertainty in the retail sector in 2018, typified by the recent closures of high street stores such as House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer, hot on the heels of the collapse of major retail chains including Maplin and Toys R Us earlier this year.
Additionally, on the supermarket front, much industry chatter is focused on the proposed merger of the two supermarket giants, Asda and Sainsbury’s. All of which brings one undisputable fact into very clear focus: the traditional high street store, supermarket and shopping mall all need to innovate to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Destination 2028: Westfield makes some informed speculation
Shopping mall giant Westfield recently unveiled its own vision of the future in the shape of its ‘Destination 2028’ concept store, the group’s own future-gazing project, launched to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of its first London mall in October, later this year.
Destination 2028 is a fascinating exercise in informed speculation about the future of retail. Extrapolating a few of today’s key technology trends in the use of big data, artificial intelligence and the ‘omnichannel’ customer experience.
Westfield’s vision is that of a hyper-connected micro-city, driven by the two key elements of real-world social interaction and community. Something that’s far from the dystopian imaginings of retail’s future painted by those who claim that mobile ecommerce spells the end of brick ‘n’ mortar stores and shopping malls.
The Destination 2028 concept was developed with the vision of a carefully curated panel of experts by Westfield, including a futurologist, a fashion technology innovator, a retail specialist and experimental physiologists. “As we celebrate ten years of pioneering retail in London we’re already looking forward to the next decade,” said Myf Ryan, Chief Marketing Officer at Westfield UK and Europe. “We’ll continue to work closely with brands to deliver innovative retail spaces that create the ideal environment for them and our visitors – including developing technologies that converge digital and physical shopping to enhance that Extra-perience in state-of-the-art surroundings.”
Personalising the future retail experience with AI walkways
Westfield’s vision of the future of the retail experience combines a number of elements alongside shopping, including leisure, wellness, community and experience. With the overall focus on creating an unmissable live experience is the key here: combining entertainment, leisure and elements of the sharing economy, such as pop-ups and temporary rental retail spaces, where customers can rent or buy the latest fashions and products.
Wellness and healthy living, in particular, will be a major trend for retail spaces in the future, according to Westfield. Hence, Destination 2028 contains a ‘betterment zone’ with mindfulness workshops, loads of lush green space, waterways, plants, and even things such as allotments and farms, where visitors can select fresh produce directly from the producer.
Perhaps most importantly of all, it will be new technologies such as artificial intelligence, biometric sensors and mixed reality that will drive the success and consumer adoption of these new types of retail experience in the future.
Westfield’s futuristic walkways in Destination 2028, for example, have AI sensors built into their construction, with eye scanners and other biometric scanners checking each visitor’s profile for likes, previous purchases and so on. That way, the centre will aim to offer each visitor a genuine personalised experience, recommending fast-lanes to their favourite stores and experiences, whilst flagging particular offers and personalised reviews of new products as they make their way around the space.
Finally, store experiences will be improved by using the latest developments in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality, with features such as the latest ‘magic’ mirrors and smart changing rooms allowing consumers test out various outfits without having to physically put the clothes on.
‘Store No.8’: traditional retail competes with ecommerce giants
The real question for traditional retailers such as Walmart is this: how can they compete with ecommerce giants such as Amazon, who have personalisation and big data hardcoded into their business models?Retailers need to use artificial intelligence to better understand customer triggers, to get better insights from big data and, essentially, to gain a deeper understanding of their customers at specific points in time and space, in order to deliver the most appealing personalised experience possible. This is the context for Walmart’s latest plans for its incredibly clever and superbly simple AI-powered chat service called ‘Jetblack’, one of the latest innovations to emerge from the company’s retail tech incubator ‘Store No. 8’.
Most excitingly, Walmart’s new AI text chat service will allow users to simply send an SMS text message or image of things they want to their ‘personalised shopper’ who will respond with reviews, recommendations and so forth. Until a finalised shopping list is agreed upon, which will then be delivered by same-day or next-day delivery to your door.
Admittedly, while some of the developments and innovations described here could well still be a decade away, both of these visions of the future of retail - Westfield’s Destination 2028 and Walmart’s Jetblack AI-text service - share key technologies: they both use AI and customer insights gathered from big data to deliver a simple, enjoyable and memorable personalised experience.
Anil Gandharve, SVP and Head of Retail, CPG and Manufacturing at Mindtree
Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pexels