Lead Author: Emily Shaw

The retail landscape is changing at a phenomenal speed. Digital is disrupting the market and changing the way consumers interact with businesses. I’ve been amazed at how consumers expectations of brands, and their perceptions of value for money, and value for time, have changed so much in the last few years, and show no sign of slowing. It seems to me that there will always be a place for the physical store in the retail journey, but it is against this backdrop of change that stores must reassess their purpose and emphasise their uniqueness in order to evolve and remain relevant to consumers. With such speed of change, retailers must act now to develop the skills and expertise needed to emerge as industry leaders of the future.

Creating a unique proposition

An ever improving customer journey is being demanded by consumers; one which must be dynamic, accessible and continuous. What the future looks like for retailers will vary hugely by sector, by customer base and brand positioning. Retailers must create their own unique vision for the future and recognise where they need to focus their investments.

I can see six major priorities that are going to be the key battlefields for retailers when it comes to their stores of the future. Retailers must consider all of these areas to remain competitive and relevant to consumers.

The six priorities for stores of the future

  1. Deliver an inspirational customer experience, looking beyond the more obvious forms of inspiration to create something different and really excite both new and loyal customers

    Who’s doing this well right now?

  • Eatalyis exceptional at inspiring its customers, as well as providing a visually exciting, tempting environment and stories of people and companies who make the food. It encourages customers to stop and indulge, encouraging the Italian way of sharing and enjoying food.
  1. Provide an authentic in-store customer experience that supports the brand values and positioning, that lets the personality of the retailer shine through and allows customers to connect with the brand on a deeper level

Who’s doing this well right now?

  • Online retailer, Everlane, is a great example of a retailer being willing to provide authentic information to customers to create trust in the brand. Everlane shares the origins, costs of materials, labour, shipping and overall profit margins with consumers. This transparency creates a strong sense of brand loyalty.
  1. Create effortless, in-store operational excellence across all sites, that ensures a frictionless journey for customers and allows colleagues to operate efficiently

Who’s doing this well right now?

  • 7-Eleven has introduced its first unstaffed convenience store in Seoul. The new store utilises the ‘HandPay’ system to recognise individuals by the veins on the palm of their hands. Items are scanned by a 360 degree scanner and the price is then displayed on a screen. Customers use their hand to pay and this is linked back to their store card.
  1. Ensure stores are set up to be adaptive, flexible and prepared to embrace and deliver fast paced, consumer driven change

Who’s doing this well right now?

  • In the US, AHold are using image recognition and SMS message technology to dramatically improve on shelf availability whilst also driving colleague efficiency. Cameras have been set up to monitor the shelf edge and recognise white space as gaps. Colleagues are then sent an SMS to say what’s missing, with a link to the photo so that the assistant doesn’t need to visit the shelf themselves. This allows them to adapt to surges in customer demand and drive efficiency.
  1. Deliver personalised, relevant and real time interactions with customers across all in store touch points, that genuinely improve their experience and are not just for show

Who’s doing this well right now?

  • Monsoon Accessorize provided staff with iPads to transform them into personal assistants. The iPads give staff access to live stock information and product pages featuring recommendations. Staff ask shoppers to log in to their accounts, and the recommendations displayed are derived from both product affinities and online behaviour. The initiative has increased average order values by 133%. Its e-receipts then send additional targeted product recommendations and offers to the customer post-purchase.
  1. Become seamlessly integrated with the wider organisation both to drive gross profit margin and sales across all channels and to ensure that customers only ever see “one organisation” no matter how or where they choose to engage

Who’s doing this well right now?

  • Alibaba’s Hema supermarket is a fantastic blend of online and offline, and shows how customer data can be used to enable multiple areas of the business. On the customer side analytics allow for initiatives such as personalised offers in-store and personalised product pages on their app, while on the delivery side, algorithms are able to plan delivery routes and allow Hema to operate a smart supply chain management system. Its innovative fulfilment model allows it to deliver orders within 30 minutes, available to both online customers and those in-store who don’t want to carry their shopping home.

I have seen great examples of retailers tackling each of these priorities already, but what is less often seen, is a retailer who can do this consistently, across all of their stores, in all of their markets. And even rarer, are examples of retailers who are consistently demonstrating competency in multiple areas.

Defining the store of the future vision

If retailers are to successfully create and implement a vision for their store of the future that encapsulates the priorities above, and truly create something unique, I believe they must consider what each of these six priorities really means for the store. Five core operational areas can be used to frame their thinking when defining the strategy; Operations, Data & Analytics, Colleague, Customer and Omnichannel.

Viewing the six priorities through the lens of each of these operational areas will ensure that all areas of store operations are included and are ultimately future proofed. It is easy to view one area in isolation, but what is needed to be a winner in the market place is to create a consistent, joined up vision that creates a clear proposition for consumers.

We often hear talk of what the “store of the future” will look like, but I believe that there cannot be a one size fits all approach. The store of the future will look very different for each retailer, and even between formats. Those retailers that try to emulate the success of others without really reflecting on what is right for their brand and their business, will not succeed. To be successful, retailers will need to consider where they want to play, and what they want to be famous for. It is vital that they play to their strengths and differences; they cannot (and should not try to) be best at everything.

They will need to place their big bets, deciding where they most want to invest to make their stores relevant for their customers of the future.


For more research and insight into this topic please find the following Capgemini report on ‘Making the Digital Connection: Why Physical Retail Stores Need a Reboot’