Opinion: What will the store of the future be like? By Nigel Collett

Clearly, our love for technology has crossed the Rubicon. We are actually defined by all the gizmos that we carry around with us. In fact when my internet connection went down the other day – just for a few hours – I felt something akin to panic. Technology is friend, postman, encyclopedia and a host of other things. Without it we are lost.

Hardly surprising then that when we shop we need technology, even though we are both delighted and worried (in equal measures) the more sophisticated and all pervasive it becomes.

So, when a client asked me two weeks ago to give a presentation to them on the shop of the future to be honest I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.

Frictionless payments? Already old hat. Beacon technology?  Been there, done that. Touch screen technology? Got the T-shirt thanks.

What will the shop of 2025 look like? When Generation Z grows up and starts to earn and spend its own money, change will accelerate much faster than we are used to. Using bio-feedback from a simple rubber bracelet (which can connect wirelessly with your computer or barcode in a shop) store displays will change according to your mood, shops will know when you are sad or happy. They will be able to speak to you and make recommendations and remind you of things that you might have forgotten.

We will also carry around with us, in the micro chip ‘brain’ of our rubber bracelet, a wish list of stuff that we actually need or would just like to have. This information may have been synched automatically from a site like Amazon and, as we walk around our future shop, personalised offers will follow us. The bracelet will simply tell the store what your wish list is and the store will reply, “Yes we have that in stock!”

Will Seymour, a senior analyst at The Future Foundation, pointed out this week that digital screens, window displays or mobile screens will be able to show shoppers a personalised set of products when they walk in-store. Instead of browsing through a rack of shirts, for example, the screens will show you what’s in stock in your size.

Nice thought. But I think things will go much farther than that. Intelligent food packaging in your house will be able to talk to your rubber bracelet, a jar of coffee for example will be able to tell the bracelet when it’s getting low and will automatically be added to a shopping list. We will be prompted to personally visit a store to get our food or simply download our shopping list and have everything delivered, probably by drone.

There are retailers, like my client, working right now on how to future-proof their stores.  John Lewis Partnership, for example, has set up J-Lab to look into retail innovation and Westfield Malls has a hi-tech think tank working hard to outpace consumer expectation and demand. In fact John Lewis is already exploring virtual reality, 3D images that allow customers to see themselves from all angles and virtual living rooms, enabling shoppers so see furniture in their own homes.

Whatever the store of the future looks like in 2025 one thing is for sure: retailers will understand customers in a way that right now they can only dream about. We are in a period of change as profound as that of the Industrial Revolution and the stores on our high streets will keep changing as new digital technologies creep into the physical realm of retailing. 

Nigel Collett is CEO of rpa:group. The agency is exhibiting in the Designer Pavilion at Retail Design Expo