Smartphones will lead you to a store. You’ll try on products in a 3D/Virtual Reality setting and everything will be gift-wrapped and sitting on your doorstep when you arrive home.
Welcome to Australian retail in 2020 or so predicts Steve Sowden the managing director of the Australian arm of international retail creative firm Intermarketing Agency.
Sowden – an Englishman who’s just arrived in Australia to establish the business locally – agrees that the Aussie retail experience lags that of Europe and America. The experience aside, Snowden says, retailers need to ask themselves are they experts in their field – ready to dispense invaluable information to the befuddled customer – or is the in-store experience simply about picking up the stuff customers ordered online?
He agrees that the bricks and mortar experience has lagged that of online but it’s fast catching-up. “Where bricks and mortar wins is on trust,” he said. “I also think you’ll see people buy the smaller, cheaper stuff online but the big decisions will be in-store. You’re about to see spending in-store and online become much more polarised.
“The retail space will have to improve. Retailers don’t want or can afford for customers to come in and buy one pair of jeans and bugger off. They want you to buy a second pair and the shoes to match.”
Already, Sowden says, European retailers are using Oculus Rift – a very advanced form of virtual reality glasses and he thinks that sort of tech will fast become the in-store norm.
“We’ll increasingly move into a world where you go into a store, try something on – either for real or in virtual reality – and by the time you get home it’s been delivered to your door. That means you can go shopping, buy a load of products, you don’t need to lug it home in the car or the bus, and by the time you get home it’ll be delivered to your house.
“What that means for retailers is they don’t need to carry huge in-store stockrooms. They can open up their stores to even bigger and better and more engaging retail experiences for the customer without a storeroom out the back full of product that they may or may not sell
“This whole thing will change the concept of retail. The in-store experience will become so important; plus retailers won’t have to pay huge rents on space for things like stockrooms. Imagine if you’ve got a 1000-square foot store but three-quarters of that is taken up with boxes. Send it (the warehousing) out to a cheap warehouse outside of town and put a delivery infrastructure in place and you can either halve your retail space – and that has huge benefits in terms of rent – or you open it up and have this beautiful retail experience that treats customers how they want to be treated,” he said.
However, Sowden agreed that this new shape of retailing would take some trial and error, and customers would need to be eased into it and convinced of the benefits.
Nor would it suit every retailer too. “For challenger brands that want to do new and disruptive things it will work but would someone like Myer or David Jones do it? No, I can’t see it. Could Foot Locker do it? For sure! Brands that are younger, more agile, more a challenger brand it would work for sure,” he concluded.