, ,

lo-res_glnc001084-sIn this think piece, the author offers his views on where retail stores are today, and why. Tracing the development of retail spaces, he argues that the demand for “bigness”—including big box stores that offer a little bit of everything—ultimately has led to a situation in which there are no limits on consumers. They can literally access anything at any time, with minimal effort, as signified by the massive reach of e-commerce, the increasing presence of rapid and automated drone deliveries, and the emergence of automatic reorder capabilities (e.g., Amazon’s Dash button).

But with such bigness comes such a vast range of options that consumers find themselves overwhelmed and confused. Accordingly, this author puts forth the proposition that even as shopping spaces online get bigger, more brick-and-mortar locations are shrinking their overall environment. This shrinkage refers both to the physical space they encompass and the offerings they provide for customers’ consideration.

As an example, he cites Apple Stores, noting that in essence, they only sell four products: phones, computers, tablets, and watches. There might be some accessories that come with those products, but its assortment ultimately is deeply restricted, and by offering a limited assortment, Apple ensures its own relevance.

Another example comes from the market for housewares and appliances, where modern retailers create environments designed to mimic consumers’ actual homes. They can take a shower in the store to test the faucets at Pirch in New York; they can spend the night at New Road Residence in London to try out the sheets, mattresses, and towels before buying them. Even if not all stores go quite to these extremes, the shopping experience is increasingly designed to signal a sense of home and comfort, whether that entails salespeople offering bottles of water to their “guests” or fellow shoppers being encouraged to interact as like-minded friends. Even the payment process, especially in high-end stores, makes the interaction feel less transactional and more personal. Some retailers use silver trays to present the credit card slip for customers to sign; others like Apple rely on technology to make the purchase seem effortless.

The future then is likely to blur the lines between personal and retail spaces even more. The author imagines smart closets that allow consumers to ship and receive different sizes, colors, and styles from home, such as in the form of “a Chanel Dash button.” The warehouses where retailers maintain their inventory will become, he predicts, extensions of a consumer’s own closet or pantry, such that each person can order, access, and send back products without barriers or hindrances.

The future may be unknown, but according to the author of this article, it clearly is going to be dedicated to making shopping more enjoyable, easier, and convenient for consumers, wherever they choose to shop.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are some stores doing to enhance the shopping experience?
  2. Do these predictions about the future of shopping seem reasonable to you? Why or why not?

 Source: Michael Rock, The New York Times, August 2, 2016