Computer technology is rapidly changing the American shopping experience; more are skipping the stores altogether, instead using their smartphones and tablets.
So far, physical stores (“bricks and mortar”) are not going away-yet. But due to tech and online shopping advances, stores that remain will be likely to offer amenities and services that may include: allowing shoppers to try on clothes without getting undressed (!), “smart” homes that can order light bulbs before they go dark, 3-D printing of coffee cups and other household products, day care, veterinary and beauty services, drive-through pickup, order online, pick-up-in-store services and self-service checkout (for example, the Seattle store Hointer features clothing not in piles or on racks, but as one piece hanging at a time, like an art gallery. Shoppers just touch their smartphones to a coded tag on the item, then select a color and size on their phone. If a shopper doesn’t like an item, it’s tossed down a chute, which instantly removes the item from the shopper’s online shopping cart. The shopper keeps what he or she likes, which is automatically purchased upon leaving the store), among other innovations.
Beacons are Bluetooth-enabled devices that can communicate directly with your cellphone to offer discounts, direct you to a desired product in a store or enable you to pay remotely (the British retailer Tesco and drugstore Duane Reade are currently testing these).
Perhaps the biggest innovation will be 3-D printing; within the next 10 years, it’s expected to completely change the world of retail (perhaps you want to buy a coffee cup; you may be able to just download the code for it and 3-D print it at a retail outlet or in your own home).
According to Kasey Lobaugh, chief retail innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting, “The big question is when. Right now a few stores offer rudimentary 3-D printing services, but on a very limited basis. And 3-D printing is primarily plastic, but there’s currently testing at MIT and other places with other materials, including fabric.”
Lobaugh believes the shift will occur within 10 to 20 years.
Physical Stores and Online Shopping: The Best of Both Worlds
A current situation that retailers are facing everywhere is how to best blend physical stores (“bricks and mortars”) and online shopping in a world that now demands that retailers do a good job at both.
“You kind of have to figure out what’s the combination. It’s not one or the other anymore,” said Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “It’s an exciting time in retail.”
Several stores, like Wal-Mart, are already offering the option of ordering online and picking in the store. And some exclusively online stores, such as Bonobos, are now opening actual stores so potential customers can also see and touch their products.
It’s a win-win situation (there’s a bigger audience online, but there’s still a steady core group of substantial millions that wants the “interaction” with the merchandise) for the most part (there’s also more competition online).
Thrift Shops and “By-the-pound” Programs
Once looked down upon (for quite a while), in recent years thrift shops have become totally “trendy” and “hot” (for some of us, it was always trendy and hot). Because of this change in American attitude, many shops are adding stores, offering more items and launching new concepts to expand customer base.
One trend is the “pound program”; shoppers grab a bundle of items, have it weighed and pay a set price.
“We want goods, especially clothing, to flow out the door quickly. If you let them sit too long, you have quality-control issues,” said Tom Canfield, district manager for Salvation Army stores in Minnesota’s Twin Cities (where this trend is extremely popular).
In the by-the-pound program, any clothing unsold after three weeks are gathered from 12 stores and sent to the Minneapolis warehouse. Then they’re divided into large containers and put on tables every 15 minutes; extreme bargain hunters sort through each new load.
The concept has worked not only in Minnesota, but also on the East and West coasts and elsewhere in the U.S.
Nationally, the number of used-goods stores has grown 7 percent each year since 2010, making it a $13 billion industry in 2012, according to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops.
“There’s been a broad shift in the attitude of customers,” said Jason Seifert, chief financial and operations officer of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. ¨Whether they´re looking to be green by keeping stuff out of the landfill or just looking for a bargain, it all works for us.¨
Sources: “What’s in store?”-Associated Press-The Vindicator, May 24, 2014, “More stores mix bricks, clicks”-Orlando Sentinel (MCT)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, June 29, 2014 and ¨Thrift stores expanding by-the-pound programs¨ Star Tribune (Minneapolis)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, June 29, 2014