How a Modern Touch Might Save Retail

The store isn’t dead, just reinvented.

UPS’s recently released Pulse of the Online Shopper Global Study is full of insights about the new landscape for retail, an environment where goods routinely move across borders thanks to online marketplaces.

Here’s what the study does not contain: Proof that the store is dead.

What’s changing in online shopper behavior? Check out UPS’s new study to find out.

Sure, the retail landscape is rapidly changing: Last year, a record-high number of physical stores closed in the U.S. More than 12,000 stores will close in 2018 – up dramatically from the roughly 9,000 shuttered stores in 2017, according to estimates from Cushman & Wakefield, a marketing and data analysis firm.

To some observers, this shows another step toward a virtual retail utopia where everything you need or dream of is available online with a click or voice command.

Want the stuff in an hour? At work? No problem.

Wait, there’s more. Throw in a combination of virtual reality, augmented reality and hologram technology to view things in 3D, allowing you to “try things on” from the comfort of your couch.

No traffic, no parking, no problem.

Not so fast

But do you really trust someone else to choose which cut of meat or piece of fish you are going to cook tonight? Would you feel comfortable buying an expensive item of jewelry without first trying it on, feeling it, touching it, marveling at how wonderful it looks on you?

Of course not.

To understand why, we first need to recognize one very obvious thing: We are all humans. And humans are social.

Shopping satisfies our desire to be with others while tapping into the senses.

Think of your last visit to a department store – there’s a very good reason why they place the candles near the entrance. Think of some of your favorite smells, I’d wager that the smell of freshly ground coffee is right up there. That’s why plenty of shopping areas now offer coffee shops, though fuel for additional shopping doesn’t hurt.

Smart retailers

Smart retailers are offering experiences and searching for innovative ways to not only get customers into a physical store, but also keep them there longer.

Farfetch drives change to the in-store shopping experience through technology.

This goes beyond throwing in a rock-climbing wall and calling it a day.

For example, British retailer John Lewis came up with the idea of The Residence, an apartment in some stores that even offers sleepovers.

Savvy retailers are also tapping into technology to make in-person visits more memorable.

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Shopping satisfies our desire to be with others while tapping into the senses.

Whether via the Internet of Things, augmented reality, virtual reality, beacons – and, more likely, a combination of all of the above – digital technology will power entirely new consumer experiences.

Consider Farfetch, a luxury e-commerce site that in some cases delivers on the same day.

The British company has introduced the Store of the Future, an augmented retail solution that aims to connect online and real-world shopping more seamlessly.

Customers can log in with their phones, and connected clothing racks keep track of what they pick up. There is also a smart mirror so they can request different sizes, alternative products or even pay without leaving the dressing room.

The store isn’t dead, just reinvented.

[Top photo: Farfetch CEO and founder, Jose Neves]

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Andrew Busby is Founder and CEO of Retail Reflections and an IBM Futurist.

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