Physical retail will hit the comeback trail in 2019

Stores will become smarter next year, industry observers predict, with an emphasis on cutting-edge technology and immersive environments.
3 December 2018

E-commerce might not take over just yet. Source: Shutterstock

There has been no shortage of people (usually those with skin in the e-commerce game) predicting the demise of bricks and mortar retail.

The likes of Amazon and Asos (essentially tech companies that sell stuff) have been turning in stellar financial results whilst also reinventing the shopping experience.

At the same time, times have undoubtedly been tough for many traditional retailers. Nonetheless, it has been interesting to see the tide of opinion turning on the future of the High Street.

As we head towards 2019, a popular school of thought is that we’re about to see a renaissance of physical stores, as old school players build their key advantage over pure-plays.

Get smart

Shops will get smarter, with retailers using technology such as in-store heat maps and aisle planning to ensure better traffic flow and shorter queues.

2019 will also bring the opportunity to take part in the ‘gamification’ of the shopping experience– creating an unforgettable way to shop that simply cannot be replicated online, according to Manu Tyagi, Associate Partner for Retail and Consumer Goods at Infosys Consulting.

Apps that bring online and in-store together in aisle-hunting challenges, for example, will start to make their way onto our High Streets and supermarket shopfloors, like the Pokémon-inspired AR project which uses micro-targeting and gamification – known as ‘Shopemon’. This is one example of how retailers can use technology to create a unique experience which will make the customer value a visit to the store – and make e-tail seem distinctly old-fashioned by comparison.

It’s all about creating an immersive environment, notes J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s Innovation Group’s annual trend report, Future 100.

A good recent example of this is Dixons Carphone working with UXG on the roll-out of interactive gaming zones at several Currys PC World stores across the UK.

Customers can experience the latest games, monitors, and consoles through a 6.5m x 1.2m video gaming wall which comprises 2×6 matrix commercial-grade display panels.

Within each store, the bespoke display can be split into separate feeds from 12 gaming PCs during live events and when featuring product videos, as well as two feeds for ‘versus matches’ between two gamers. Its functionality is controlled by staff through a drag and drop system on a tablet device.

Pureplays get physical

E-tailers are also getting in on the act. We’ve already seen a big hitter venture down this route. Last month, we talked about how Amazon opening a fashion pop-up in London’s Baker Street told us a lot about the future of retail. As does its Amazon Go initiative.

E-commerce companies will increasingly go bricks and mortar as they recognize the value of physical stores, says Nikki Baird, Vice President of Retail Innovation at Aptos. However, digitally native businesses can and will come at this in a fresh and unique way that takes a customer-first rather than inventory-first approach.

Hopefully, 2019 will see the end of the tiresome ‘retail apocalypse, death of the High Street’ narrative that has grabbed so many headlines in recent years. The store is alive and kicking and increasingly imbued with technology for a friction-free, personalized and connected shopping experience.