The Future of Retail—It Starts Now

When contemplating retail’s near future, it’s easy to get wrapped up in visions of drones dropping parcels on doorsteps and staff-free storefronts resembling giant vending machines.

But preparing your shop for tomorrow’s retail landscape doesn’t require an advanced degree in robotics—simply a good grasp of how consumer demands and behaviors are changing and evolving.

A number of major factors are reshaping the way ­modern consumers shop. The rise of mobile shopping, the ramping up of e-comm–friendly social media platforms, and the uptick of consumer options at checkout (like Amazon’s deal with the U.S. Postal Service for Sunday home delivery) are among the invisible forces rendering many traditional ways of doing business obsolete.

For every retail practice that becomes outmoded, however, a new, dynamic (and often tech-based) solution ascends from the ashes.

Of course, integrating every new major retail innovation into your operations would be unrealistic, and possibly even disastrous.

But as Abraham Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” We agree. Which is why we’ve corralled a handful of retail upgrades for you to consider.

Rethink Points of Sale

(photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Android Pay: coming immediately (if not sooner!) to a phone near you

Old Hat: Accepting cash and credit cards only
New Bag: Welcoming major mobile apps Apple Pay—iOS’s native point-of-sale (POS) app—and Google’s brand-new Android Pay, a digital wallet for Android phones that, like Apple Pay, lets users tap their phone on a stationary terminal to automatically transmit a payment via NFC (near field communication)

Google wisely created Android Pay to be compatible with most phones manufactured in 2013 and after.

Mobile payments are still a few years away from ubiquity, says Michelle Evans, a senior consumer finance analyst and expert on the mobile payments market for Euromonitor International. Google Wallet, Google’s first mobile POS system, “was unpopular because people didn’t want Google getting ahold of their information.”

But if you’ve ever waited in a long Starbucks line and witnessed at least half the queue pay with the coffee chain’s native app, you know that, as a culture, we’re rapidly warming to the technology.

The luxury watch–selling site Crown & Caliber recently introduced its own app.

Old Hat: Selling exclusively on your store’s website in the digisphere
New Bag: Partnering with third-party consignment-based apps that expand your brand’s reach

Apps such as House Account, Craves, and Like to Know It market fashion-flavored new and vintage pieces to younger users online. And there’s a growing number of niche apps geared toward watch and vintage jewelry buffs, including AppSnap, from vintage jeweler Opulent Jewelers, and Crown & Caliber, the luxury watch–selling app from the consignment website of the same name.

“Retailers gain targeted exposure” by selling with niche retailers who boast popular e-comm apps, says Opulent Jewelers CEO Jon Yedwabnik. “The biggest hurdle most sellers run into is getting their products noticed by the kind of affluent buyers that will actually buy them. High net worth individuals rarely do their shopping on conventional sale sites, whereas a boutique like Opulent Jewelers already has an established base of loyal customers who love rare and vintage luxury jewelry pieces.”

The investment required to sell on apps such as ­Yedwabnik’s is typically minimal; most app-based consignment retailers handle the shipping and ­listing/photography of all items. “We do all the work,” Yedwabnik says, “and the retailer gets the sale!” And if sales don’t ensue, there’s always another app or two to test-drive.

Be Dynamic With Products and Placement

The LED-light–equipped Elemoon ($399; can be programmed to match your outfit.

Old Hat: Ignoring the wearable revolution
New Bag: Stocking a wearable or two that make sense for your clientele

Wearable devices—from watches that monitor your pulse to earrings that let you know when your mom’s calling—may not end up being the next big thing in consumer electronics.

At press time, Apple was admitting that sales for its swishy, much-hyped Apple Watch “could be better,” and developers have a definite marketing problem when it comes to giving consumers a real reason to invest in their devices.

But nearly every new technology falters a bit before it catches fire. Amanda Parkes, chief of technology and research for fashion-meets-tech incubator Manufacture NY, says the coming wave of wearables will represent more diversity of product. “Right now, wearables are not being developed with a massive audience in mind,” she says. “But I think that problem will get solved as wearables get more ubiquitous.” Currently, she adds, developers are trying to jam too much functionality into under-designed devices.

On the retail horizon: single-circuit wearables that do one simple thing very well, encased in beautiful designs “with longevity of wear in mind,” Parkes says.

Savvy jewelers, she adds, should consider stocking wearables soon, but suggests asking the tough questions—“Does this wearable match my market?” and “Do I have people inside the store who really know how to explain what the wearable does?”—before ­diving into the category headfirst.

The Tyia wearable ($319–$349; boasts a quartz stone and a double-wrap leather bracelet.

Old Hat: Using static displays and floor plans
New Bag: Harnessing geolocation technology to pinpoint exactly how your customers shop in your store—where they go and what they look at—to fine-tune your floor plan for optimal selling

Online retailers have long had an advantage over brick-and-­mortar operations in terms of capturing consumer data. But geolocation technology, which picks up signals from mobile phones in a wired space, allows retailers to track a shopper’s movements inside a store and net all sorts of delectable consumer info, from frequency of visits to time spent looking at a product.

And the communication goes both ways. Apple’s geolocation product, iBeacon, allows sellers to push messages to shoppers’ phones customized to where they’re standing in the store. So a customer ­looking at a case of necklaces might receive an offer on her phone for 25 percent off the looks she’s eyeing—sweetening her prospective buy significantly.

Up next: geolocation packed with bells and ­whistles. Flayr is a geolocation product that taps into a ­shopper’s social media network, synthesizing recommendations from friends in his or her network (along with the user’s own likes) to customize in-store, on-phone offers. The ramifications of this level of personalization could help level the playing field between online and physical retail. Watch your back, Internet!

Focus on Accessibility

Make kids welcome at your store—as they are at Nettles Fine Jewelry—and their parents are more likely to enjoy the experience.

Old Hat: Fostering a “don’t touch,” kid-unfriendly vibe in your store
New Bag: Providing tablets, TVs, or games to occupy children while mom shops

Millennials are finally becoming parents, but they’re still grappling with serious economic woes including high unemployment, job insecurity, and stagnant wages. So they may not be inclined to spring for a babysitter when going shopping.

Nettles Fine Jewelry in St. Augustine, Fla., accommodates the kiddos in dozens of ways, including eschewing “the fancy jewelry store carpet” and “letting the kids touch whatever they want,” says owner Clay Nettles. There’s a big TV that plays popular kids’ movies like Frozen, and even a mini scavenger hunt: If children find a hidden gem in the display cases, they leave with a real gemstone (an amethyst or topaz). It’s all in the name of relieving shoppers’ stress, so they can focus on the product, Nettles says. “People aren’t going to have a good experience if they feel their child is going to break something.”

Old Hat: Hiding prices, leaving customers guessing
New Bag: Tagging products clearly with prices

It’s well established that millennials value transparency in their shopping experiences, and the old fine-jewelry store practice of tucking price tags underneath products (leaving customers at the mercy of sales staffers to discover the price of items) is antithetical to that desire and expectation. Like antiquated “See a salesperson before ­handling” signs, hiding prices fosters a feeling of inaccessibility and is simply an outdated technique.

Next up in price-tagging: Digital tags or signs that not only broadcast the price of a product to the consumer, but also utilize virtual dynamic pricing. This is done via an algorithm that crawls the Internet daily for prices on any given item, then automatically alters the price tag in your store to a few cents below the lowest price found, keeping your inventory extremely competitive. Uber, Amazon, and ­cutting-edge furniture company Nebraska Furniture Mart all currently use digital, dynamic pricing.

Old Hat: Closing the store Sundays and Mondays
New Bag: Opening the store Sundays with limited, single-shift hours—or designating the day as appointment-only

Sunday is a prime shopping day, fueled in part by the rising percentage of people in the United States who identify as nonreligious (22.8 percent of the population, according to the Pew Research Center).

Hesitant to give up your well-deserved day of rest? Appointment-only days, which tend to lure serious buyers instead of browsers, can be marketed as a special one-on-one offering for loyal clients and bridal buyers.

Van Alexander, owner of Alexander’s Jewelers in Texarkana, Texas, offers private appointments to valued customers any time, day or night. “In today’s market, the Internet is 24/7, so I have to be flexible with my time,” he says. “There’s no such thing as set hours.” But the extra effort, he adds, “is always worth it.”

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