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Survival of the fittest: The future of retail spaces

According to a survey by Mintel, 92% of internet users in the UK have shopped online. This has increased by 16% in the last year and since the recession in 2008 high street retailers have had a tough time competing with cheaper and more convenient online shopping. As a result, 1 in 7 shops on the UK high-street are now empty. In this blog post I will be talking about how online shopping could become more dominant and what will replace these retail spaces.

Featured image credit: Nounproject - John Caserta

The benefits of shopping online are obvious. You can easily get trusted, third-party advice, compare products and prices to make sure you make the most informed decision, and do it all from your living room. Of course, going into a store allows you to touch and feel the product before buying it and try it on to get a gist of sizing. However, technology is emerging that turns this problem on its head.

• Upcload is a piece of software that allows you to create an avatar based on your own measurements taken via a picture on your webcam. Using this software you can try on clothes (at participating websites) online and make sure you get the best fit. 

• Sayduck is an app that uses augmented reality to allow you to see a product in situ. You can even take a picture of it and share it with your friends on Twitter or Facebook to see if they like it.

In a near future where your house can be fully digitised you could easily visualise custom fitted furniture in situ. This is also great for the retailer, providing them an opportunity for more customised 'upselling'; "we see you're buying the brown leather twin sofa, we think this coffee table looks a treat alongside it, and would fit perfectly in your lounge. Why don't you see what it would look like, or share this with your friends to see what they think?" This would also provide companies with a plethora of data on their customer which means they could design products more suited to their lifestyles and needs. 

You could even take this a step further. Using your sizing information, companies could recommend a sofa that would be most ergonomic. Designers spend a long time looking through anthropometric data to make sure they have a product that suits their target market. This is a great opportunity for retailers to add value by giving yet another option for customisation making each consumer feel like an 'individual'.

There are still a lot of creative opportunities for retailers to explore in terms of adding value to their service. A good example of this is high-end American clothing retailer Nieman Marcus. Nieman Marcus launched an app last year which allows customers to find out who is working in a store, message them, and even book appointments. It also allows Sales Associates to see which pieces of clothing customers have been looking at. Using in-store sensors that pick up when a customer walks around the shop with the app open, the app delivers personalised content on all the new arrivals, the designer and the fabric. This type of information adds more worth to the products. And if you would like help from a member of staff, you're able to just 'check in' and they will automatically know where you are, and what you may want help with.

Another good example of innovation in the retail space is Audi City London. They have designed a car showroom on a much smaller scale. Using giant screens you can take the base model A3, for example, and add on all the features you want. The specific; wheels, interior, colour and then have the car digitally rendered in 3D life-size. This frees up a lot of showroom space without the need for all the different configuration Audi models and colours.

Where will these interactive stores be?

Shopping malls. While typically seen as an outdated shopping environment, latest trends show otherwise. With rent increasing by 5-6% per year and 3 megamalls set to open in the UK in the next 5-10 years, the increasing popularity of these locations for retailers looks set to continue. Shopping is becoming, once again, a day out filled with recreational activities that malls can offer such as; cinemas, galleries, restaurants, Laser Quest, etc. Okay, maybe not the last one.

I've only really scratched the surface of the possibilities for the future of shopping. With stores on the high street up for grabs there is a gap open for innovative companies to create something new, just like Audi have done. Unfortunately the need for so many retail stores will continue to decrease. However, if companies embrace the paradigm shift and work to collaborate with online shopping rather than oppose it, then there is an opportunity to make the 'showrooming' (viewing products in store and buying online) more customised. People may still make their transaction online but could be persuaded to buy from the same store they have seen the product if they are incentivised by value adding services.

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