We’ve Seen the Future of Retail

Scott Lachut, director of research and strategy for trend and technology consultancy firm PSFK Labs, shared his thoughts on where retail is headed in a Saturday morning seminar called “The Future of Retail.”

His prediction was succinct: Consumers will increasingly be expecting a seamless experience from retailers—whether online, on a mobile device, or shopping in-store. Retailers need to meet that expectation by fusing their digital and brick-and-mortar businesses into a single entity.

“Customers see every interaction with your brand as one platform,” he said. “But retailers tend to think about online and in-store as different experiences.”

Lachut warned the audience that industry pundits forecasting the demise of the brick-and-mortar store are not to be believed. “There’s been a lot of talk about the death of physical retail stores,” he said, “but [technology] is pushing us to a place where all the channels are linked together—and the physical store is a huge component of that.”

The retail expert, who spearheads PSFK’s annual “Future of Retail” report for the industry, presented dozens of emerging tech tools and real-life anecdotes to illustrate his vision of where the category is headed.

He used MasterCard’s ShopThis! program, which allows consumers to buy directly from the digital version of Wired magazine, and Google Hangouts, which lets users shop straight from videos, as examples of how to collapse the pathways to purchase, making it easier to buy on the spot and with a minimum of friction (whether real or perceived barriers).

“What’s amazing about this, is it helps us start to think about the retail experience as being able to happen anywhere,” said Lachut. “There are so many places where your customers are [potentially] able to find and purchase your product. A lot of what retail is now is not expecting your customers to come to you, but creating experiences in places where your customers are already interacting.”

Lachut discussed beacon technology, which relies on geo-location to push messaging to consumers’ phones while browsing in person.

The push notifications, which can alert shoppers to sales and products located within arm’s reach, “turns the store into a programmable interface,” says Lachut. He added, “There’s so much talk about this notion of showrooming [purchasing product online after seeing it in a store], and I think what this technology does, in some ways, is preempt that experience. If the customer already has the phone in their hand, you can meet them [with messages] you’ve crafted yourself.”

Lachut’s to-do list for retailers looking to stay on top of the new retail revolution includes delivering frictionless transactions, being accommodating at every step, and, ultimately, using technology to deliver the human touch. “It’s getting to the level where…hopefully, the technology is enabling that great face-to-face personal interaction.”