[Intern Insight] Imagine the Future: The Transformation of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Transforming physical stores with the help of technological advancements

In the previous articles in this ‘Imagining the Future’ series, I talked about technological advancements and how it may impact the retail industry. How it can help train employees, or establish the customers’ journey in stores. How it can offer detailed insights at a level previously impossible, and how that can that affect customization, which is so important.
In this article, I would like to imagine how the brick-and-mortar stores will be affected by these technological advancements. After all, if you ask a customer about their shopping experience the first thing that pops into their minds is still the last physical store they visited.
Let’s start with the beginning: What is the current state of the brick-and-mortar stores?
Well, they are still important, that’s for sure! How do I know? Look at Amazon! With pop-up stores and bookstores all across USA – and the new launch of Amazon Go – as a physical location, the largest online retailer has performed a reverse psychology on very unsuspecting customers [Source]! Sure, there are no cashiers and no check-outs, but the question remains:

‘Why does Amazon need to open a real store, in the real world?’

It turns out that customers are not as unsuspecting as we thought! One of their retail cravings is the experience, and nothing creates a better experience than something that reaches all our senses. We live in the real world and although the digital one offers many wonders, at the end of the day we go to sleep and wake up in the ‘here’ and ‘now’!
So what will the ‘here’ and ‘now’ look in the future?
Our lives are cyclical! We wake up, we go to sleep…every day! We look at the ‘kimonos’ from the Edo period and Alexander McQueen transforms them into the new ‘it’ in his ‘Haute-Couture’ Collection [Source]. We look at how food preparation 200 years ago, and Jamie Oliver starts advertising the benefits of growing your own food and eating local products [Source]! If those people from long ago could look at us they would think:

‘What’s so different?’

Would it be so surprising if, in the future, brick-and-mortar stores look just like they do now? Would have the ‘vintage’ feeling? With so many service interactions turning into digital experiences, at one point we will want to go back to the roots of what ‘service’ used to mean. That’s what Amazon is anticipating [Source].
When we analyse the retail brick-and-mortar landscape we notice that stores offer two types of experience designs – boutique self-standing stores, or as part of department stores. The first one offers the sense of exclusivity. ‘No other customer, but you, will ever experience this in-store journey! We are here to make your day special and unique!’. The other conveys the sense of choice.‘You can eat, you can drink, you can shop, you can go onto a roller-coaster! And you only have to move two feet to do these things!’

The truth is that brick-and-mortars must add multiple layers to create the level of complexity that a customer desires to experience. It’s like an onion. The customer enters and assesses the ‘atmosphere’ of the store, forms a first impression, filters the products available, analyses the services and after all this peeling, in the centre, the holy grail of all retailers – the Purchase!

In my opinion, this ‘onion’ is perpetual, simply because customers expect it, anticipate it and desire it! Whereas for the digital customers, if the buffering screen pops up you’ve lost all chance of Purchase!

The transformation of brick-and-mortar stores through technological advancements assumes that technology will help us create a better customer experience. For example, the insights provided by Big Data, as well by the biometrics that start being implemented [Source]. The augmented reality devices designed to help customers make a purchasing decision [Source]. However, the core customer journey will still take place in the brick-and-mortar stores. It’s like Disney, we come back again and again even after fifty years!

This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Laura Susnea. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Laura’s primary project focusses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure. 

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