In years to come, the Black Friday spectacle of throngs of shoppers scrambling past each other to ransack shelves of flat screen TVs might look very different.
Shopping may be about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Within the next decade it could change into an activity driven entirely by experiences and interactive technology rather than the act of buying. Think pop-up shops on steroids; places where you try things on or test products in person but don’t actually make any purchases.
Last year online sales grew by 15% in Europe and North America and a similar increase is expected this year. But this increasingly digital shopping experience means brands have fewer opportunities to meet their customers face-to-face and are getting desperate to connect. It is leading them to seek out new ways of reaching consumers.
Take the Museum of Ice Cream, for instance. It’s not a museum. It’s not a shop. It’s somewhere in between. Tickets to the series of bubblegum pink, ice-cream themed installations cost around $38 and have sold out in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Once inside, visitors are confronted with fun things to do rather than to buy – brightly-coloured, ice-cream themed installations such as a giant pool full of sugar sprinkles to jump into.
“The way in which we are able to have our visitors physically, tangibly, sensually engage with brands has a return on investment that no ad could ever come close to,” Maryellis Bunn, who designed the experience, said in an interview with New York Magazine.
Bunn believes as more retailers move entirely online, their former shop fronts will be replaced by “experiences”.
Traditional brick-and-mortar shops do appear to be disappearing in swathes. In the US, Macy’s, Sears, and K-Mart are closing the doors in hundreds of locations while in the UK Mark & Spencer and Debenhams are making similar closures.
Bunn believes as more retailers move entirely online, their former shop fronts will be replaced by experiences
But confusingly new stores, largely discount and low-end outlets, are opening too. In 2017 there will in fact be 4,080 more shops opening than there are closing, according to a report by the research firm IHL Group.
It is a complicated picture, but thinking of retail as either online or physical spaces misses the point, says Steven Dennis, a brand strategy consultant. He believes shopping in the future will need to be an amalgamation of both online shopping and physical stores, where customers move seamlessly between the two. Personalised interaction with customers such as intuitive apps and immersive experiences will be fundamental to success.