The Future of Retail – Bricks or Clicks?

Product Display at a retail store

The retail Industry has gone through significant upheavals in the last few years, shifting the focus from brand & products to consumers and their behavior. E-commerce platforms & large online retailers have usurped a large share of shoppers, both the impulsive & cautious ones, threatening the very survival of some traditional retailers. It is quite clear that the retail industry is at the cusp of major change, with all the players fighting and innovating to create interest and value for its customers. Frankly speaking, I am rather excited to see the kind of changes one can hope to see and experience, over the next few years.

Traditional Retail

These are the physical brand-exclusive & departmental stores on the high street & malls where we’re so used to shopping. These stores cater to your five senses, with the windows and product displays that visually overwhelm you, the music and perfumed ambiance calm you, the trail rooms allow you to feel and experience the product. Sometimes, there are even refreshments and lounge areas to put you at ease. These touchpoints are known to de-stress shoppers, allowing the products to do their seduction!

Apple “Flowers” watch window at Selfridges, London.

Product Display at a retail store
Product Display at a retail store

Online Retail

Online retail, on the other hand, offers ease of shopping – whenever, wherever & however, millions of products at a touch of a button, and enticing deals. In a way, it is a boon to those who dislike the whole shopping experience

Initially, traditional retail formats were threatened by the increasing acceptance of online retail and its reach, believing that there will be a time that even the concept of shopping at physical stores would be dead! However, two of the latest shopping behaviors -Showrooming & Webrooming- have put a stop to negative theories

Showrooming is shoppers browsing through showrooms and then later, trying to find those products online at discounted prices to complete their purchase. One would think a large percentage of people would be doing that. However, the truth is that an even larger percentage of shoppers prefer Webrooming, looking at different products online and then experiencing the same products at stores before completing the sale at the traditional retailing point!

Influences of Traditional retail on Online retailing

In an effort to encourage shoppers who like to try & experience a product, most e-commerce apparel & jewelry websites offer free trials at home. Online chatting and 12-24 hr customer services are now a must for the bigger players. Interestingly, however, we observe visual merchandising principles like cross-merchandising being used by websites, to go beyond the usual ‘similar products’ and ‘people who viewed this also looked at’

e-commerce apparel websites

For instance, Limeroad, an Indian e-commerce website offering ethnic and western wear and accessories, has been embracing cross-merchandising. Above is a snapshot of limeroad product page, notice the ensemble suggestion in the middle of the page that is showcasing other products that will compliment a given product.

Snapshop is another app that allows you to visualize how the furniture will be placed in your room while shopping.


Influences of online retail on traditional retail formats

The scope for digitizing retail to improve the experience seems endless once the retailer is connected to the customer.

online retail
Image & info based on a study by BCG analysis

The Customer can be directed to a parking slot and welcomed into the store with a personalized message or assistance. Feedback for the previous purchases can be gathered while previous shopping patterns can be analyzed and connected to the personality of the customer. Big data is finding its way into every industry, you can bet it will be used to develop a far deeper and meaningful relationship with a consumer!

Many innovations have already been launched by progressive retailers. Let’s take a look at a few to know:

Trial Room Touchscreens
Image Courtesy:

Rebecca Minkoff, an American designer retail brand that is an industry leader in accessible luxury handbags, accessories, footwear, and apparel, partnered with Ebay Inc to bring immersive technology to brick-and-mortar stores. The highlight is an interactive screen in the trial rooms, connecting the customer to the store assistant without having to yell or parade half-naked across the trail room corridor.

Needless to say, we women shoppers love it!

Endless Aisles

Endless Aisles

AdiVerse, launched by Adidas is a virtual interactive footwear wall, an excellent example of endless aisles. The wall recognizes the gender of the customer and lets them browse through the entire range of products. The wall also gives 3-D rendered images, product features, uses, usage limitations & existing online product reviews along with requests for a quick trial and checkout options. Watch this video to understand how the wall works.

Interactive 24hr Shop Windows

Interactive 24hr Shop Windows

Kate Spade is another well-known American designer boutique brand. launched interactive windows in retail stores that were once vacant. Passers-by can shop using this large touch screen available 24 hours, browsing products, make purchases. The checkout process is easy and simple as customers only have to enter their mobile numbers. Within an hour, customers receive a confirmation and their purchases are delivered at home.

shop windows

In a similar initiative, EBay Inc launched virtual stores called “shoppable windows” in New York in 2013. The customers use the QR scanner in their smartphones to scan the code and buy it online. The purchase could either be picked up from the store or home delivered by the retailer.

Walmart Application

Walmart recently introduced a Walmart android app that lets customers buy their products through the app and collect it from the store. It also makes aisle navigation, finding products, prices & offers easier at the store. The bill can be without waiting at the bill desk while products can be delivered home.


It now seems increasingly clear that the future of retail is a synthesis of bricks and clicks, rather than a choice between the two. The experience of a store can never quite be replicated, even by technologies such as Virtual Reality. However, it can be certainly be enhanced, as the examples have shown

In the past, retailers have enjoyed success based on offering better costs and convenience, better quality and design, unique store layouts, and a business model that helps them stand out. While these factors remain important, the technology now exists to make shopping a seamless omnichannel experience. Some retailers will fail to adapt and suffer while others will lead the change and define the future for the industry.


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