People walking through shopping street in the rain

Empty shopping centres and the new retail technology tsunami

Consumers looking for some retail therapy are no longer dependent on the physical shopping mall. From our comfortable spot on the couch, we have 24 hour access to a universe of shopping options. In brick-and-mortar retail, however, we’re also seeing a number of interesting developments and retailers of today need to jump on this bandwagon. In Japan, for instance, robot shop assistants are tested regularly and extensively and customers respond positively to these digital assistants. In the next few years we’ll see a tsunami of change. Think predictive shipping, retail robots and 3D printers. The retailer who wants to stay in the game had better be part of these changes.

Predictive shipping – your book will be delivered before you’ve even ordered it

Last year, Amazon was granted a patent for anticipatory or predictive shipping. With information such as order history, searches, wish lists and even how long your mouse cursor hovers over a product, smart algorithms can predict your next product choice. The products you are thinking of buying will be ready and waiting to be shipped from an in-between-warehouse close to your home. Now Amazon can deliver your parcel, by drone mind you, faster than you can say: A-ma-zon.

Read also: Smart warehouses and the ‘Amazon Effect’

Meet NAO, your friendly shop assistant

There have already been a number of successful pilots with NAO, the friendly shop assistant, in countries such as Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. This helpful robot can show customers various products and then refer the customers to a sales consultant to finalise their purchases. Current shop assistants need not fear, however. Robots are expected to play an interactive complementary role in retail rather than completely replace their human counterparts.

With 3D printing, shopping may soon become a thing of the past

Some types of stores will become completely obsolete in the future. Why walk around crowded malls or even shop online if you can print whatever you need on your own 3D printer at home? Small 3D printers will be available for as little as 100 euro and they’ll print your cutlery, lamps and even your furniture for you. In the future, physical shopping will be pure leisure. It will be all about ‘having an experience’.

What will happen to today’s retailer?

The physical store of the future will play an entirely different role. It will serve to complement the shopping experience that has already been initiated online, at home, via smartphone or tablet. The shopkeeper will have to have his shop kitted out with tech such as virtual reality in order to entice his customers. He’ll need to offer sensory experiences like lighting, touch and scent to create a welcoming environment that appeals to the not-so-rational side of the customer. That’s what will make the experience of the physical store stand out from the online shop. There certainly is hope for today’s retailer but if he wants to remain relevant in the future, he’ll need to be prepared and embrace the changes that are happening now.

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