Comment: How will we shop in the future?

Futuristic shopping experiences have long been bought to life by Hollywood. But how many of these experiences are already with us, and which are still to come? Unfortunately, we’re not all using floating chairs like the humans in Wall-E. However, we can already buy goods and products from the comfort of our non-floating chairs as they do in the movie.

While the experience of Tom Cruise in Minority Report walking through a futuristic shopping mall where facial recognition technology and retinal scans enable targeted advertisement and customised, personalised services in stores by virtual reality assistants may still be a long way off, many of the technologies shown in Minority Report actually do already exist today.

For example, facial recognition technologies and the customisation of marketing and personalisation of services using real time consumer data. Even personalised advertisement in shopping centres is now a possibility. This was shown with a recent Battersea Dogs Home campaign where RFID technology enabled shoppers to be followed around a shopping mall by an animated dog on screens. According to research by CSC, 30% of retailers are already using facial recognition software to track the way consumers are moving around stores. Perhaps it won’t be too long until we have moving adverts billboards in stores that change depending on the likes and dislikes of individual walking by based on real time data being shared and collected by retailers and advertisers.

Given that many of these technologies already exist today, it seems that the way we will shop in the future will be shaped by the increasing convergence and interconnection between emerging technologies. Technologies including advanced fintech, augmented reality and virtual reality, facial recognition, big data analytics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The opportunities for retailers will not just lie in advertising and marketing to consumers but across the whole retail supply chain. For example cloud enabled block chain technology could be used to digitally manage and pay for orders between producers of raw materials and product manufacturers. Within factories we could see AI-enabled robotics produce customised products based on the real-time analysis of data collected from consumers and orders received via IoT devices within the home. This could help manufacturers increase operational efficiency and reduce costs by producing only what is required. While we are already used to tracking orders using RFID and GPS technology, orders could soon be distributed direct to consumers by driverless lorries and drones that customers can track and even redirect on route to ensure goods and products are delivered when and where they are needed. Imagine no longer being trapped at home tracking a parcel online that may arrive between 8am and 8pm!

If these are the opportunities that could exist for producers, manufacturer, distributors, retailers and consumers in the very near future the questions then becomes how do we move forward and enable this future? If we will be able to visit and walk around a shop using VR from our living rooms, receive recommendations and personalised customer services from a humanised AI bot based on data we choose to share with our favourite retailers what will this mean for retailers? Given this vision of shopping in the future may seem exciting to some and perhaps uncomfortable for others, how do we bring consumers along with retailers on the next wave of our retail digital revolution?

With the increasing role data will play in the real time delivery of personalised and customised goods and services it is important that consumers feel confident to share their data. Ensuring personal information is handled in an appropriate and transparent will be key to  maintaining consumer privacy and building a culture of data confidence that will enable the retail sector to realise the full opportunities that advanced technologies have to offer.

It was not that long ago the discussion around technology and shopping, or eCommerce as it was once known, centred around which retail business model would win in the battle between online and the bricks and mortar of the high street. The rise of the multichannel mobile shopping experience has shown that there is room in consumers' lives for both internet shopping and high street browsing. This discussion needs to move on and consider what will be the key future technologies that will change the way we will shop in the future.

On 9 November, the tech community is coming together to discuss what the future holds for the retail sector at our Supercharging the Digital Economy event.