After Covid, what’s the future of retail?


As we move closer to the end of an intense pandemic, there are pressing questions for the retail sector. Will physical stores phase out? How might creative digital solutions infuse emotion back into online shopping? Could the science behind what sparks incentive or intrigue be used to inform retail decisions? As a futurologist studying market forces and consumer psychology in equal measure, three factors shaping retail for the long-term should find a place on your radar in 2021.


1. Ignoring the rise of ‘A-Commerce’ could cost you

One shift we are already at the cusp of today is e-commerce incorporating a more ‘real life’ element via the use of Augmented Reality (AR), in turn evolving to what my forecasting lab FutureScape 248 coins A-commerce’. The premise doesn’t call for expensive headsets. Fire up your device’s camera, point it at a visual trigger (a QR code or brand logo for instance) and then at your kitchen, street or even yourself. The AR experience pushes digital information to your phone, projecting over your real world. You can visualise how that sofa would look in your living room and if it would fit the space or the pair of pricey sneakers you’re coveting are indeed flattering on your feet.


2. Your employee is the future Influencer

Using influencer marketing to build reach is not new. Broadening our notion of who qualifies as an influencer, however, could provide an early edge. Considering the long-term impacts of Covid on the industry, retailers would do well to think beyond partnering with typical market influencers (crucial as they might be) and invest time and resource into their own workforce for the same. This could be encouraging users to engage using a brand challenge or hashtag or supporting employees who create brand profiles themselves to showcase products more editorially or even an intimate, “Day in the life” that reveals pressures and pleasures of the brand alike.


3. Embrace neuromarketing

Traditional market research can be riddled with bias and skewed figures. Bringing neuroscience into the mix gives us more intimate insights, telling us what happens to the actual neurotransmitters or signals in our brain when we face a choice overload, abandon a decision or feel stimulated. For example, it’s been discovered that just before we give up on an activity – say, a search for a certain product – our brains emit nociceptin. This chemical suppresses dopamine, which in turn is frequently associated with motivation. The crisp and clear takeaway? Ensure the customer doesn’t feel manipulated or ‘pushed’ during the buyer journey (on or offline) and keep rewards a mix of short-term and long-term goals. Doing this prevents the nociceptin being emitted in too great a quantity and keeps the right amount of dopamine flowing.


4. Physical stores will still matter

The social aspect of shopping – milling around in a store with great ambience – simply can’t be undervalued. Despite physical presence being scaled down as a response to the pandemic, the stores still standing that are prepared to embrace digital developments will see these human-centred advances augment and accentuate rather than replace the shopping experience for many.

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