We’re all ready for some retail therapy now; there’s going to be a huge release of pent-up demand once retail opens up again, but what’s the longer-term future of the high street? We need to ask this question from a number of different perspectives where we consider adjacent technologies and business models. The last 12 months has demonstrated that many of the traditional big chains we’re all used to seeing on our high streets are simply not operating sustainable business models. According to the Centre of Retail Research, almost 60 big chain retailers have fallen victim to Covid-19 impacting over 6,500 high street stores making almost 130,000 retail workers redundant. Not only will the high look different as a result of this in the short term, but these wounds will scar the retail landscape for many years to come.
New neighbourhood stores will emerge with smaller footprints as we’re seeing from Ikea, Nike and Anthropology and the experience will get better and more personal, but range expression will always be better online. For certain goods we will always want to touch and feel a product before we make a purchase and you might say this one factor will always drive the need to have a physical store. The problem is technology is making shopping online cheaper, quicker and soon we’ll be able to sample products from home too. How you may ask?
Firstly, let’s look at the advances in delivery technology; Starship Technologies has already made 1 million deliveries by autonomous robot, delivering everything from shopping, take-aways and even coffee. Battery technology is getting better which means the possibilities for fully autonomous robots and drones is getting closer. A typical 10 mile round delivery by autonomous robot or drone or in 5 year’s time will cost $0.25 compared with about $7 for the same delivery using a remotely piloted drone according to Ark Invest. This means I could order goods online and have them delivered much cheaper and faster than going to store.
Speed is going to matter in the future, this has already been proven by Amazon through it’s Prime service. In L.A. users that are shopping on the FastAF platform, (the lexicon speaks directly to the mindset of younger consumers) who can order goods and have them delivered within 2 hours. 2 hours! The company is in the process of setting up neighbourhood located micro fulfilment centres where shoppers can purchase branded goods such as Nike apparel or Sonos speakers without ever venturing out.
Retail is changing but the act of shopping that involves meeting friends, enjoying coffee and lunch will always be there but customer expectations will be higher of retailers. We must stop thinking about the future of retail in terms of a physical building that facilitates a transaction and instead look at the overall omni-channel experience and really consider, how is technology advancing in relation to consumer behaviour?
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