Why The Future Of Retail Is Whatever You Want It To Be

February 16, 2018

Having worked at a Fortune 100 retailer and being an avid consumer of all things retail culture (a fancy way of saying I shop a lot), there are some very interesting things happening in the retail industry right now. And I’m not just talking about Amazon’s increasingly impressive online dominance, but instead how retailers across the U.S. are adapting to compete with the former garage-based bookstore.

Here a few trends I’m noticing — both on the supply-chain side and consumer side — that are shaping the future of retail. And in case the title of this post didn’t give it away, it’s all (very) good news for shoppers.

  • Brick-and-mortars double down on drive-up. While the concept of ordering items online and picking them up in store isn’t new, it is getting a lot easier. Supply-chain technology has greatly improved, so store inventory is accurately reflected in what the customer sees online. Couple that with a simplified ordering experience and those slick “for pickup only” parking spots, and it’s a win-win for everyone, especially parents running errands with small children in tow.
  • Third-party delivery brings perishables right to you. As shipping expectations change drastically (remember when two weeks was the norm?) third-party services like Shipt and Instacart have made buying fresh produce, meat and dairy much more approachable. By adding the human element behind each order, designated shoppers can communicate with the consumer if an item is out-of-stock or if they have a question about quality. This hybrid order-online-talk-to-a-human means groceries (and other items) are delivered straight to the consumer’s home, but comes with a little more assurance than having an automated robot pick out your avocado.
  • Retail can still be an experience, not just an errand. Sure, sometimes you really do need to just go to the store to pick up your eggs, bread and milk for the week. But for those of us who, I don’t know, love spending inappropriate amounts of time wandering around Target, there’s still a place for organic discovery that only happens in real life. For customers who might not know that they want to try the new organic pea milk until they see it in stores, the in-person browsing experience will continue to serve an important role in how people discover and try new things.
  • Subscription shopping made even simpler. Having first seen this technology on beauty sites, the notion of “subscribing” to receive a specific item on a set schedule puts the purchase decision on autopilot. Because if a customer buys the same mascara every three months, why not offer to automatically send it to them every three months, plus a little discount for their loyalty? Amazon is starting to play in this space, with subscription offers on a few quick-turn consumables (think paper towels and dish soap) and their now-infamous “dash button,” and we can expect this to become even more ubiquitous in the coming years. For customers that buy the same quantity of milk, bread and eggs every week, why not automate and reduce the risk of them shopping a competitor on a whim?

While retailers are innovating in every way possible — from simplifying the online ordering process to optimizing the in-store experience and everything in between — the race to beat Amazon is sure to have at least one clear winner: customers.