I was asked to contribute to an article on the future of retail. My task was to think of the three key issues retailers should be thinking about for 3 to 5 years time. Here’s what I submitted. But what do you think?

TECHNOLOGY: Internet shopping will continue to grow and be the biggest threat to bricks and mortar retailers. You either have to join in by offering a significant Internet presence, or offer something that can’t be done online – or both! Internet-based shopping will need to become a lot more interactive, making use of augmented reality, 3-d viewing options and live IM. But there are experiences that can’t be had on the Internet, and this is what retailers need to focus on. These would include:

  • Creating shopping experiences. The look, feel, ambience of your store needs to have something special, unique, noteworthy about it.
  • Use the senses – smell, taste, feel cannot be sent by the Internet.
  • Create a community of people who are passionate about your store and what you sell. Too many retailers focus only on how to create connections between themselves and their customers – you also need to find ways to create connections between your customers, so that you can build a fan base, a tribe, a community of passion around your store and your brand.
  • Create reasons for people to come to your store.
  • And give them someone (a real person) to connect to when they come. Your social media presence should be linked to real individuals, not a corporate presence.
  • Surprise people. The best recent example of this is what KLM did at Schipol airport during the recent holidays. They watched online for people using social media check ins (with geo-location sites like Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places). They then did a quick search of that person’s social media profile to find what they liked, bought an appropriate small gift for them, and then using their picture, scoured the airport to find them, wish them a good trip and give them a personalised gift. It cost very little but made a big impression. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqHWAE8GDEk)

DEMOGRAPHICS: Many retailers are youth obsessed. It’s good to be focused on getting the next generation into your store – your long term survival depends on it. But don’t forget about older generations. Besides the fact that most of them are much more likely to want to come and shop in a high street retail store, there are very good reasons for having a specific strategy for older shoppers. More than half of all the people who have ever turned 80 are still alive. And the Baby Boomer generation (born after World War II and into the 1950s and 60s) are about to start retiring. Except they won’t retire. Most of them are planning to continue working in one way or another. They 50 to 70 year old age group own about half of the wealth and control over half of the disposable income of this country. You must not ignore this age group. And they are a group that is used to having things made especially for them. You need to do that too.

ETHICAL CONSUMERS: The age of transparency is arriving, and your customers will increasingly be demanding to know the ethics behind your products. You need to have this information – and make sure that you and your supply chain are as ethical as you can possibly be.

What would you add to my list?

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