Shopping: Past, Present & Future

Past

When my grandma was a girl, shopping was limited to what she could walk to. She'd schlep down to her local tailor, general store, or department store, where an eager sales associate would lead her through the shopping experience. The most effective way to discover upcoming items for the next season was to ask a neighbor or peruse the Sears catalog. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Elvis was a baby, and cigarettes supposedly made you live longer.

Present

Fast forward eighty years to present day and every major retailer and brand is investing heavily in what we have collectively titled the “consumer experience”. What started as e-commerce and Paypal has quickly accelerated to a fully immersive experience with technologies like augmented and virtual reality rapidly becoming a part of the purchase process. We’ve seen these technologies become most prevalent in the real estate space with homebuyers being enabled to view potential properties and test out furniture and home decor by viewing these items through virtual reality.

Well-known brands like Lego and Ikea have already jumped on the AR/VR train to assist shoppers in experiencing their products before making a purchase decision. And they’re not alone; Retailers and other commercial enterprises across the board are increasingly adopting technologies that offer immersive experiences for their customers.

These new technologies have large effects on small businesses.  For example, retail giants like Amazon increasingly outcompete small businesses with consistent low pricing, free shipping and endless inventories. In the new shopping-tech frontier, business owners must double down on the customer experience to remain competitive.

Over the last decade, Apple has continuously led the trend of embracing technology as a part of the purchase process, having store clientele patrol well equipped with tablets and headsets to be able to rapidly check out those ready to purchase, or ask other employees a question from across a physical location. Others have embraced LCD touch screens and physical display catalogues that shoppers can scroll through while perusing a brick and mortar store.

While all of this physical technology in storefronts is exciting, we can’t forget about standard applications like consumer shopping apps. For instance Nike currently has 12 different iOS apps that give consumers access to new products, updates and events. These are far from going out of style and it comes as no surprise that virtually every brand has invested significantly in a consumer facing app of some sort.

Marketers definitely haven’t shied away from all of the available technology as part of the shopping experience. More recently, we have started to see brands embrace social media in ways that expand the social shopping experience beyond just an iPhone. Brands like the popular clothing outlet Free People have taken to Snapchat as have many other clothing companies to promote upcoming sales, styles and discounts through Snapchat stories.

Ralph Lauren made waves when they introduced interactive mirrors in their flagship New York store. The mirrors allowed shoppers to control the lighting of the fitting room as well as recommended outfits that could go with the clothes that they were trying on. At the end of the fitting session the mirror texted the details about the clothing that was tried on to the consumer so that they had more time to think about their potential purchase.

Future

What will shopping look like for my daughter. New technologies are emerging. For example, Geolocation lets retailers send targeted messaging to shoppers based on not only where they live, but where they stand in a store. These promotional messages include everything from coupons to limited time offerings for products they’re close to.

Every new technology has a profound impact on small business. Retail giants like Amazon and Walmart increasingly outcompete small businesses with consistent low pricing, free shipping and endless inventories. In the new shopping-tech frontier, business owners must double down on the customer experience to remain competitive.
 

At the end of the day, shopping is a deeply human experience. Most shoppers want to stay in touch with their humanity. Purely tech-driven experiences are wonderful, but may not last without a more personal touch. Since before grandma's day, shopping has been driven by nostalgia, personal interactions, and relationships. Retailers would be wise to not forget this.

Sources:

https://www.gearbrain.com/vr-shopping-apps-2312243800.html
https://www.forbes.com/sites/infosys/2011/12/01/pervasive-computing/#ba6740968b65
http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/the-future-of-the-shopping-mall
https://hbr.org/2011/12/the-future-of-shopping
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-future-of-shopping-1430105084