NEW YORK — One of America’s favorite pastimes is changing rapidly.
When it comes to shopping, more Americans are skipping the stores and pulling out their smartphones and tablets. Still, there’s more on the horizon for shopping than just pointing and clicking.
No one thinks physical stores are going away permanently. But because of the frenetic pace of advances in technology and online shopping, the stores that remain likely will offer amenities and services that are more about experiences and less about selling a product.
Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says stores of the future will connect online and offline shopping, with more drive-thru pickup and order-online, pick-up-in-store services. Checkout also will be self-service or with cashiers using computer tablets.
Some stores are taking self-service further: A store in Seattle called Hointer displays clothing not in piles or on racks but as one piece hanging at a time, like a gallery.
Shoppers just touch their smartphones to a coded tag on the item and then select a color and size. Store technology keeps track of the items, and by the time a shopper is ready to try them on, they’re already at the dressing room.
If the shopper doesn’t like an item, he tosses it down a chute, which removes the item from the shopper’s online cart. The shopper keeps the items he or she wants, which are purchased automatically when leaving the store.
Some stores like British retailer Tesco and drugstore Duane Reade now are testing beacons, Bluetooth-enabled devices that can communicate directly with your cellphone to offer discounts, direct you to a product or enable you to pay remotely.
“The more we know about customers … you can use promotions on not a macro level but a micro level,” says Kasey Lobaugh, chief retail innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting.
Within 10 years, 3-D printing could make a major disruption in retail, Deloitte’s Lobaugh predicts. Take a simple item like a coffee cup. Instead of producing one in China, transporting it and distributing it to retail stores, you could 3-D print it at a retail outlet or in your home.
“That starts a dramatic change in terms of the structure of retail,” Lobaugh said. And while 3-D printing today is primarily plastic, Lobaugh says there are tests at places like MIT Media Lab and elsewhere with other materials, including fabric.
He predicts the shift will come in 10 to 20 years.
Steve Yankovich, head of innovation for eBay, thinks someday buying household supplies won’t take any effort at all. A connected home could use customer history and real-time data the house records to sense when a light bulb burns out, for example, and order a new one automatically.
“A box could show up on porch with this disparate set of 10 things the connected home and eBay determined you needed to keep things running smoothly,” he says.
EBay recently bought PhiSix, a company working on creating life-size 3-D models of clothing that can be used in a dressing room. Yankovich says the technology can be used in a virtual dressing room, as well.
British digital agency Engage has already created a Virtual Style Pod that scans shoppers and creates a life-size image onto which clothing was projected.