Both necessary and a luxury, cathartic and fun, shopping, in some form or another, is one the hallmarks of a functioning society. While shopping has been around nearly as long as history itself, how we shop is always growing and changing with time. As technology advances, so does shopping, and there seems to be no end in sight.
In modern times, the future of shopping is arguably more interesting and uncertain than ever thanks to the thousands of possibilities recent technological advances provide. The technology of the last decade has truly transformed how we live life, and the change in how we shop and will continue to shop is just getting started.
So what is the future of shopping? By gaining a deeper understanding of retail, eCommerce, and how shopping has already changed in 2018, we can begin to get an idea of what lies ahead for this most enjoyed activity.
Retail and E-Commerce: What’s the Difference?
In the simplest terms, retail and eCommerce seem to be very similar: retail and eCommerce both refer to what happens when a product from a business is sold to an individual consumer for their own use, except one of them is done exclusively through the Internet. Retail can be conducted a number of ways: in a brick and mortar establishment like a shopping mall or grocery store, online, person-to-person sales, or even direct mail. eCommerce, on the other hand, refers to commercial transactions that are primarily made electronically through the Internet. There is something known as “retail eCommerce sales,” which are the sale of goods and services where the business and transaction take place of the Internet either through an extranet, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), or similar online systems.
Today, many merchants fall somewhere between brick and mortar retail and eCommerce. Traditional retail or the shopping experience where you go out to a certain establishment to purchase a good or service is certainly alive and well. This most basic form of shopping will likely always exist. However, many stores exist both as a brick and mortar storefront as well as an online shop. Take for instance stores like Target, WalMart, or Forever 21. Each of these places can be visited and shopped with via their online websites or you can take a trip to the nearest store and walk around the actual establishment. While online shopping is popular and the numbers have steadily continued to increase over time, this does not mean that brick and mortar stores like shopping malls, groceries, and convenience stores are going obsolete. On the contrary, both mediums are still thriving. It’s simply that the world’s shopping habits have changed, leading to an ever-changing future as tech continues to evolve.
How Shopping Has Already Changed: The Rise of Online Shopping
There are already some very futuristic aspects of shopping today and these can be viewed as the foundation for where the future of shopping is headed. Thanks to the Internet, apps, ads, online reviews, brands, and cloud-based software, how we shop now is already vastly different from how we did twenty or so years ago. In fact, small eCommerce businesses would have a harder time staying afloat without cloud-based inventory software like that provided by Finale Inventory to keep their inventory organized and streamlined. This efficiency makes online shopping attractive for many shoppers, as well as plays into their need to access certain information before making a purchase.
One of the most prominent differences is that shoppers are incredibly informed about what they buy, somewhat diminishing the need for salesmen and women. To clarify, shoppers can look up products and other items online, read reviews about them, compare prices, find the nearest store or choose the best online retailer, and finally make their purchase all from their smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
The ease of access is one of the main ways shopping has changed in recent years, with the Internet playing a huge role in how people locate and purchase items. In fact, during an April 2017 survey, 40 percent of Internet users in the United States actually reported that they frequently purchase items online at least several times a month. 20 percent reported shopping online weekly. Further, the study returned that 42 percent of U.S. shoppers search for and purchase goods and services online while 14 percent actively search for a product online before they buy in a store. To take things a step further, shoppers can track shipments, find estimated delivery dates, and even process returns all online as well.
With the addition of promotions, discounts, coupons, and Groupon, consumers are even more likely to shop online than go to physical stores. Ads are everywhere: your Facebook page, in your Google searches, your Instagram feed, and more, alerting you to great online deals and discounts only available on the web. Recommendations, advice, and reviews from friends, family, and followers are also easy ways to get deals online, making this mode of shopping one of the easiest and most streamlined by far. What’s more, “mobile commerce” is on the rise in the United States.
While most consumers use laptops for online browsing and purchases, online shopping from one’s smartphone is becoming more and more popular. This is mainly due to the fact that mobile phones are even more accessible than laptops for most people because they’re always with us and we’re almost always on them. Further, many businesses and online stores have made their website interfaces mobile-friendly, making it easier than ever before to shop online through your smartphone.
These aspects of online shopping are certainly setting the stage for what’s to come, and the closest new advancement on the horizon is omnichannel retail.
Onwards to the Future: Omnichannel Retail and Beyond
For many companies, omnichannel retail is the next logical step for increasing sales, improving customer relationships, and enhancing revenue. Omnichannel retail refers to a multichannel method of making sales. It aims to provide customers with an easy and effortless purchasing experience, one that allows the client to shop easily from any place, be it their laptop, smartphone, tablet, or at a brick and mortar store.
One attractive aspect of the omnichannel design is that customer care representatives are able to cite a customer’s preferences and purchases from their last time shopping with the business. This allows the representative to understand the customer a bit better and suggest products or services that fit their unique wants and needs. Whether online or in person, this data is useful for guiding the customer to their next purchase while also giving them some autonomy. Customers may use their laptops or phones to check a company’s store inventory via the company website, giving them the option purchase in-stock items, save them for later, or purchase them online and pick up in store. In addition to giving the customer an active role in their personal shopping and showing them that they are a valued part of your business process, omnichannel retail also comes with a number of benefits for business. Some include:
- More Efficiency: For both new and return customers, omnichannel retail strategies provide consistency to the customer shopping experience across all platforms. It also allows business to be ready to respond to their customers’ questions, needs, and concerns thanks to the central database of products, prices, offers, promotions, and more.
- Improved Data Collection: A more personalized customer experience is a more positive one. Treating your customers like numbers instead of people can backfire fast, making your business impersonal and untrustworthy. When your customer’s experience is more personalized, it automatically gives them better service and improves retention.
- Integration of Data Analysis and Communication: Having multiple communication channels allows your business access to various information streams, which results in better communication with customers, buyers, suppliers, and more. Data streams are key to understanding what customers want and need. Analytics take the data streams and make them understandable so that you can comprehend, quantify, and review communications and ultimately improve interpersonal relationships with clients.
The future of shopping is sure to be digital, but this doesn’t mean it will look too different from what we’re experiencing today. The important thing to remember is that no matter how shopping changes, some things will always be important: attention to data and data analysis, a personalized relationship with your clients and customers, and streamlined business management.