What will the high street look like in ten years’ time? Will it be a sad line of boarded-up shops suffering the same fate as Woolworths? Maybe a consistent stream of Click & Collect hubs? Or perhaps every building will be a showroom, with orders fulfilled to a customer’s home in a mere hour via a drone delivery? In this article, we take a look at the future of the store and how online is increasingly affecting the relevance of our high streets. 

A recent report from the British Retail Consortium predicts there will be 900,000 fewer jobs in retail by 2025, as the digital revolution continues to gather pace.

eCommerce keeps on growing, and while mobile conversion is not as high, customers are slowly finding it even easier to buy from their six-inch screens as mobile web and app developers create seamless shopping experiences; take Amazon’s one-click check-out as an example.

Many argue these online and mobile sales are cannibalising the store and will soon cause the demise of our high streets. 

But one sign which suggests the high street is not a lost cause is the entrance of pureplay retailers. Amazon raised eyebrows with its physical bookstore launch in the US, Made.com cleverly made the move to physical stores to showroom its online products, while fashion e-tailer Missguided, has launched department store concessions and is believed to be looking for property. Clearly the high street is still desirable. 

Meanwhile, a number of traditional retailers have a high-street advantage due to the products they sell. A shopper wanting to buy a new scent from The Perfume Shop would have to go to a physical store to smell a tester, while sofa and bed companies have the advantage that customers need to ensure their big-ticket purchase is comfortable.

But these retailers should not sit back and relax in confident bliss that their stores will always be needed, they still need to adopt new technologies to keep ahead of the competition – be that in the form of an editorial app, like The Perfume Shop, or investment in mobile point of sale (POS) technology to eradicate queues, like Schuh – because who really likes queuing? 

Tesco once said that customers who shop across channels spend more money. So having an understanding of your customer and how they shop is integral for marketing purposes, but also to improve overall retail strategy. This is a technology investment and retailers should use value exchange in order to gain customer data from the store, such as loyalty cards or eReceipts. 

Perhaps future stores will look more like Made.com’s showroom, full of iPads for in-store customers to purchase direct from the website to be delivered at home. Or maybe more like the Apple store, where you can pick up an accessory, buy it via an app, and walk out – however alien this is to British shoppers to not speak to a store associate, or at least be shouted at by a self-checkout machine. But apart from feeling like a criminal, this is seamless shopping, the result of successfully combining both on and offline channels.

Self-checkout would explain the demise of those 900,000 jobs in retail. But the retail industry clings to the fact people visit a physical store because they want an experience they can’t get online. That was until Hilton and IBM recently introduced a humanoid robot into one of its hotels in Virginia. The robot concierge, named Connie, uses cognitive computing and machine learning to answer questions posed in natural language about the hotel, local tourist attractions and recommended restaurants. 

While the robot looks more like a souped-up VTech computer than flesh and bones, Connie is incredibly advanced, using IBM’s Watson technology to learn more with each interaction to better serve hotel guests. And with nearly a decade to work on her aesthetics, Connie could soon be roaming your local grocery store, informing customers about the latest quinoa recently discovered in the Amazon, and that it can be found on aisle 12.

What will our high streets look like in ten years’ time? Maybe not that much different, but the stores inside will have to change dramatically, as will retail strategies.

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