What is the future of retail? It was the Grands Magazins at the turn of the twentieth century – Bon Marché, Samaritaine, Printemps – who made shopping a destination and a pastime. In the eighties, when branded stores started to take over, the high streets started to look increasingly identical.
Today, branded retail, coffee and fast food chains dominate the streetscape. No wonder, then, that online shopping is successful. Taking this logic further is Amazon Go, an supermarket without cashiers or counter personnell. There is no checkout, as everything you put into your shopping bag was tracked and will be automatically deducted from your online bank. As you walk towards the exit, a section in the fridge lightens up, and your Amazon Alexa voice suggests you purchase that ice cream you so much enjoyed. It knows as you tweeted about it last week.
In this shop of the future, you have been identified through a host of different pattern-matching algorithms: The system knows it is you through the geometry of your face, which an algorithm automatically constructed from your selfies. The system knows it is you through the way you walk, which an algorithm has compressed into a pattern from footage on CCTV cameras. The system also knows you through the patterns of your skin and your retinas.
Another approach is to bring back excitement and a sense of experience to shopping. Bangkok’s newest shopping mall, Embassy Quartier, hosted in purpose-built buildings in the heart of Asia’s most visited shopping destination, offers a range of interesting concepts to encourage discovery: Curated fashion spaces with interesting and lesser known local designers, hybrid shops, and an extensive food mile with a stunning breadth of offerings, arranged in a spiral design where one can walk through a Pan-Asian food street sloping up to the top floor.
How we conceptualize the shopping experience of the future depends on how we see our customers. Since time immemorial, from bazaars to department stores, shopping is about human narratives. It is a quest, a discovery, and a deeply human experience. We should work on making their time worthwhile, offering interesting stories, positive surprises and enriching experiences.