The Possible Future of Retail

Posted in Retail
By Dan Theirl on July 26, 2016

I am not making a bold prediction today.

I am exploring the possible future of retail as consumers embrace a digital and mobile first shopping experience and even lifestyle.

As I ride into work in an Uber, I order my Ritual with two taps, grab a cup of coffee, walk over to my local breakfast spot and pick up my Ritual order within 5 min., just in time for my 9:30am meeting. I then check my morning emails and schedule while waiting for the meeting to start, drinking my coffee and eating my sandwich. After the meeting, I check my Hip Chat, Google Hangouts, and WeChat messages before sitting down to work. I have chosen to automate most of my daily tasks, such as paying bills, ordering breakfast, and even selecting music to listen to using Spotify. I hardly cook a meal anymore, relying heavily on apps like Foodora here in Toronto to deliver food while I am on my way home. All of this automation and on-demand lifestyle is coming to the shopping experience.

More and more computer code is influencing our purchasing decisions and shopping behavior. One possible future of retail comes down to shopping for the customer by adding items to their cart and simply pushes a message and asks, “Ready to check out Dan? We noticed you were out of these items.” For everyday purchases, this future is more than plausible, who really enjoys a trip to the drug store after work to grab shampoo. I push that experience off until every drop is out of the bottle. I would love smart products identifying when I am running out. However, shopping for something personal and reflective of who you are will most likely not be easy to automate and predict. There simply isn’t a data point yet to determine how something will make someone feel. The future here will automate the mundane and enhance the personal shopping experiences like clothing or makeup. Think more in lines of innovations from more retailers like the Amazon dash button for everyday items.

It’s reasonable to see automation take hold more and more in our daily lives as consumers, but what about further into the future in say 10 to 15 years out? I love dreaming of the day I no longer have to shop. What if we could think of the clothes we want to wear next week, and they will be created before I get home. If neuroscience catches up, we could translate our individual desires into accurate product recommendations that ultimately materialize through 3D printing.

The retailer would no longer sell items in a store, virtual or otherwise. The retailer would sell the designs to be printed by our home printer. The clothing and materials may be temporary and never need washing, they could be recycled into the next new trend. I will no longer have to do laundry or feel guilty when laundry is done for me. Temporary clothing, shoes, hats, purses, gloves and accessories could be the next big thing in our future. There are significant technical barriers that need to be overcome, but if the market is big enough entrepreneurs and innovators will find a way. Consumers will no longer have to feel guilty for 5 seconds about poor labor conditions as they lace up their sneakers.