COVID-19 may have done the unthinkable: it has effectively killed brick and mortar retail stores. With all physical locations closed for months on end because they were deemed unsafe, customers have had to quickly become accustomed to shopping exclusively online.
And even once physical retail opened to the public once again, the safety restrictions kind of put a damper on what used to be a fun way to spend your time. Masks, hand sanitizer, limited customers, and closed changing rooms don’t exactly scream “Amazing Shopping Experience”.
With brick and mortar already being on the brink of collapse even before the pandemic, it’s clear that the future is online shopping. But what can we expect from it?
- More Personalization – Supported by Customer Data
Customer data is an extremely valuable asset that will continue to be highly relevant for the shopping experience. Personal and behavioral data tells retailers a lot of essential information for personalization, such as age, gender, location, preferences, shopping history, size, etc. Based on this, they can make educated recommendations for products that will become more and more on target and precise. Customers have come to appreciate, and even expect, this feature from online stores.
Particularly when facial recognition software will become more integrated with the shopping experience, retailers will be able to register your browsing habits and preferences even in-store, in order to later attempt to replicate them or offer you the same experience online.
More importantly, brands will offer more personalization in their product offerings, in general. This is supported by customer data and AI technology. There are already subscription services that rely on algorithms and collected data to offer personalized services. Stitch Fix is one of the primary examples of this – their entire business model relies on computer-generated clothing suggestions based on information gathered from the customer.
With a better and better understanding of customer preferences and behavior, this type of service will become more and more common and will extend to other areas, including food, ingredients, books, games, etc.
- A Sizing Revolution
While online clothing stores are both incredibly popular and highly profitable, the shopping experience itself can be frustrating, inconvenient, and leave customers wanting. Because the fit of clothing is such a personal thing that typically requires one to try on the garment, it becomes significantly more complicated than just clicking
“Add to Cart”.
Garments will arrive, but they will be too big, too small, will fit funny, will be made from the wrong material – none of which is apparent on the website. While sizing guides and converters do exist, they are generic and often found lacking.
To optimize the shopping experience, customers need more information about what they’re purchasing, and that doesn’t only apply to clothing. In the not too distant future, we may very well witness emerging technology that allows the shopper to visualize the garment on their own body, or even visualize a piece of furniture in their home before purchasing it.
Recommendations for styles and sizes based on customer data and previous shopping habits and behaviors already exist, and they will only become more accurate. It is expected that the experience will change to adapt to the customer – including bespoke sizing, detailing, and other personalized features. That will help retailers stand out.
- Shipping, No Longer an Impediment
At the moment, even though online shopping is growing in popularity, shipping is still one of the biggest points of contention for customers. Not only is shipping expensive, but it can also be slow, non-secured, or experience delays. Hardly an ideal shopping experience, especially when you rely on the timely and precise delivery of an item.
We can confidently predict that with a switch to primarily online retail, shipping will benefit from a complete overhaul. Shipping will get even faster, in an attempt to compete with the same-day shipping offerings from various companies. That significantly expands the range of products that can safely and reliably be ordered online, such as fresh produce.
Free, or at least cheaper shipping and returns will become the norm. We are also likely to see more membership and subscription-based services like the ones offered by Amazon, Sephora, or ASOS, which offer unlimited free or inexpensive shipping. That will go very far in persuading people to shop online more often, and especially to impulse purchase.
Services that secure packages may also become the norm. In an attempt to curb parcel theft, some companies have come up with creative tech solutions, like boxes that have a special lock that can only be opened by the intended recipient. Or you can trust a delivery person to enter your vehicle or your home to safely deliver a package.
But they will push further – security systems similar to the ones on our devices will be installed. GPS, facial recognition, retina scans, or fingerprint scans could be the end of package theft – not only because it makes it impossible to open the package, but because it reveals who has stolen the package.
- Shop Now, Pay Later
Undoubtedly, one of the major inconveniences with online shopping is the high upfront costs. In certain cases, those costs can increase due to absence of an in-store shopping experience – one cannot see the product in person, try on clothes, compare two similar products, or assess the quality of worth of the product before making the purchase. Buying multiple similar products – or multiple sizes of the same garment – can be a good compromise, but one that requires a high upfront cost for that luxury of comparison.
Amazon introduced a novel approach in their clothes shopping experience in which the customer is granted the ability to order multiples and return what they don’t like, only being charged for what they keep, after the fact. That can bring the experience of shopping in-store to online because it removes these inconveniences and makes the experience more user-friendly and democratic, in a way.
Delayed payment, payment in installments, or alternative payment are all already implemented in various online stores across the globe and have proven to be extremely popular with consumers – especially as the world moves into an economic recession, this type of alternative payment will skyrocket in popularity.
There is no escaping the tech revolution, and that includes shopping. While many brick-and-mortar stores will remain open, they will become highly selective and will serve a different purpose, operating more like physical showrooms than actual stores.
Online shopping is quickly elbowing its way to the top, offering an increasingly faster, more comfortable, more convenient, and more personalized shopping experience. From delivering goods at lightning speed to allowing you to try on clothes virtually and enabling bespoke and personalized products based on your data, there is no doubt that the future of online shopping is bright – and maybe a little Sci-Fi.