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An Insider's Perspective to the Future of Retail

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everywomanClub member Jen McAleer can see into the future – of retail that is.

Jen is managing director at Start JG, the brand, retail and digital agency that has helped businesses such as Virgin, adidas, Barclays, Intel and Samsung to offer customers a consistent, responsive experience, however they come into contact with the brand.

Here she gives her perspective on how we will be shopping in the future, and why the wall between shopping online and on the High Street will soon be crumbling away.

Good news for those who still enjoy a day at the shops: the future of shopping will not lie entirely online. “People still love shopping. They want to go into stores and touch things. They are never going to give up that physical experience,” says Jen.

However, that does not mean that technology will not revolutionise the traditional shopping trip.

According to Jen, we'll increasingly find the physical shopping experience mixing seamlessly with online shopping, combining the pleasure of day at the shops with the convenience of on-screen ordering.

“Customers live in a multichannel world, and they expect retailers to adapt to that. Organisations must do this or die,” says Jen.

Traditional High Street shopping is merging with the online experience, click and collect, where you order online and collect the goods from a nearby store, this is already popular and will continue to grow, says Jen.

Jen cites a few more examples:

The virtual footwear wall - adidas is using technology to make its entire range of 4,000 shoe styles available in each store. A huge wall-mounted touch-screen allows you to scroll through life-size virtual 3D models of all the available styles, see the shoes from different angles, and access information about each shoe’s design and manufacture. You can even see social networking feeds from customers who have already bought the style, and find out who is wearing it, including sports stars.

Once you have selected your style, the system allows you to check if it is available in your size in the store, and if not, order it immediately via the screen or an assistant with a tablet.

Jen explains: "People were going into adidas stores looking for a particular style and leaving empty handed and disappointed, so we developed the customer service interface and software that powers this system so this doesn’t need to happen any more."

In-store screens act like an interactive fashion magazine, displaying the latest styles and allowing you to put together garments and accessories to see how they look. They also offer on-screen fashion advice, just like glossy fashion magazines and e-zines. “You can build an outfit on screen then buy it online, or the system will tell you exactly where to get the garments in the store,” says Jen. The multichannel initiative, called Style Online, enables customers to use digital kiosks and touch-screens to gain access to Marks & Spencers’s full range of fashion brands such as Autograph and Per Una in smaller stores that would not normally carry the ranges.

Future new technologies such as an electrical coating that means smart phone and tablet screens will allow you to 'feel' textures - such as fur - captured in an image on the screen of a tablet, smartphone or flat screen. The technology uses an ultra-low electrical current to create a sensation like friction under your finger, so in the future you may not just be able to see garments, but feel them too.

In 2011 Tesco trialled a 'virtual supermarket' in South Korean underground stations.

Posters displaying products as they would look on the supermarket shelf or in a chiller cabinet were pasted on the walls and travellers used theory smart phones to scan the quick response (QR) codes of products they wished to buy, for later delivery to shoppers' homes.

The future will also put more power in the hands of consumers, forecasts Jen, who points out that increasingly shoppers want retailers to provide what they want, when they want it and where they want.

"Shoppers want a consistent, seamless experience of the retailer’s brand, be it online, offline, in stores, in the media or in advertising," she says. "We all know the frustration of seeing an item online or in an advertisement and then going into a store only to discover the staff cannot find it or it’s not available. The most successful retailers understand this and know they cannot afford to be complacent."

Increasingly you will be targeted as an individual rather than as just an invisible member of a large customer segment. Retailers can already track your buying habits through digital means so it will be easier to tailor offers directly to you.

"Whether you’re shopping digitally or in store, the best retailers will be competing to tell you an engaging story, to present an experience akin to theatre, with immaculate service from amazing staff, and beautifully merchandised goods. The aim is to leave you thinking, 'Wow, that was wonderful and so easy,' and vowing to go back again."

However big the changes, the aim remains just as it has always been - to give customers just what they want.