Retail, like humans, is constantly evolving as we find new and innovative ways to exchange value with one another. In the last while, our experience of retail has been dominated by big name brands and department stores, which have been successful because they were the only place where people could purchase things they wanted or needed, or they were the only place that provided a certain kind of experience.
Today, we can have an entire retail experience through a screen, as we’re able to make transactions easily online with credit cards and even cryptocurrency. This means that while traditional retail might still be relevant for a certain kind of purchasing experience that can’t be replicated online, the essential concept of retail is shifting to include both brick & mortar stores and e-commerce.
What is the current retail landscape, in South Africa and abroad?
In South Africa, like many other countries around the world, people spend a lot of time in shopping malls and strip malls, but the success of online retail stores like One Day Only and Superbalist shows that online shopping has taken off. At the same time, the general growth of independent local fashion brands, shows that the local retail space has evolved to include both online shopping and traditional retail (which is often centred around social interactions).
In a South African context, easier online payment mechanisms have allowed entrepreneurs to start up their own business without actually having to invest capital into setting up a store, and while some brands might have been able to literally “set up shop” after proving themselves in the marketplace, retail has evolved to the point where brands can choose to take part in pop-up stores, markets and stock their merchandise in another store, without having to rent or own a physical space.
Around the world, brands are leveraging social media tools like Instagram and Pinterest to sell their products online, and while a tactile experience of a product is often a very enjoyable part of making a purchase, a consumer’s experience of a brand is now very much felt through a brand’s online persona, and assessed through what they choose to share and the customer experience they facilitate using tools like Insta stories, snapchat and email marketing campaigns.
What is the future of retail?
While there have been attempts to radically alter the retail experience, for example, with self-service stores like Amazon Go, it doesn’t seem like the traditional concept of a brick & mortar store will completely disappear anytime soon. Overall, there’s not a shift from one to the other, but rather a merging of online and physical platforms, which is evident from the following predictions for the future of retail:
1. Payment forms are evolving:
New ways of exchanging value mean that you won’t necessarily always need a person to physically ring up your items, since you’re often able to do this yourself (both online and in self-service checkouts). But apart from the convenience of payment options like Apple Pay, Snapscan or Zapper, easier payment options also mean lower barriers to entry, and also provide a variety of potential benefits in inventory management and automated transactions, though the use of connected IoT devices.
2. Marketing is both in person and online
Virtual reality and augmented reality are going to shift the way we experience shopping, by creating immersive brand experiences, which could even include having holograms interact with you to try on clothing. Interactive screens and digital change rooms are currently being tested out by certain brands, as well as AI and imaging technology that can help you find the right fit, style and colour, without you necessarily having to try anything on.
3. Retail is still all about the customer experience
Many data and retail experts see the evolution of retail as becoming more personalised, and having to make the effort to engage meaningfully with customers using the data that they can get from a variety of sources. As mentioned before, informal pop-ups and markets are proving very popular, as they give brands a chance to market themselves in a traditional retail space without the heavy costs.
Apart from pop-ups and immersive experiences, there are infinite ways that stores can be redesigned and new technology used to gain customer insights, but ultimately, it comes down to how innovative brands are in creating opportunities to gather and use this information to their competitive advantage.
4. Curation is key
Even though technology gives us access to so much variety, especially valuable to those who don’t live in urban areas, the number of choices we have is overwhelming. This means that while we can easily buy things online, we’re still looking for a human element in the form of a curated experience, where it’s not a one-way monologue of big brands telling you what to buy, but more of a two-way exchange, in that purchasing experiences are created through collaboration, and the involvement of complementary brands. This means more creative ways of bringing a variety of options together under one roof, which The Space and Australian brand, The SuperCool, are doing very successfully.
The Future of Retail is Complex
The retail industry is massive, and includes a number of players from massive corporations to small businesses and entrepreneurs, with an array of unique trends emerging within the different spaces. However, when considering the trends above, and with further research on the industry across the globe, it’s clear that even with the convenience and data-mining potential provided by new technologies, the future of retail will no doubt still involve innovative ways to combine tactile experiences, human interaction and the benefits of a variety of new software and technologies.
At SovTech we’ve built a variety of business platforms using the latest software technologies. If you’d like to find out how we’re creating more efficient ways of using technology to grow businesses in the retail industry, get in touch, we’d love to innovate with you.
Business Software. Sorted.™