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Predicting the future is part of the job in the tech sector, a famously hard skill. After all, Henry Ford was initially advised that ‘horses will outlast cars’ in 1903, the former Intel CEO said that smart phones were a ‘pipe dream’ in 1992 and the founder of computer network firm 3COM claimed the ‘internet will catastrophically collapse’ in 1995.

While the future is fiendishly difficult to predict we can still identify clues to help guide our thinking, rooted in the various megatrends that are shaping our society. Rapid urbanisation, changing demographics, hyper globalisation and accelerated innovation are all trends which will dramatically impact consumer behaviour and therefore the retail sector by the end of the next decade. 

HIGH-STREET SHOPS WILL REMAIN, BUT RAPID URBANISATION AND HYPER GLOBALISATION WILL MAKE MOBILITY THE NORM

No longer does the constraint of having the same shop with the same logo in the same place at all times apply. We are already witnessing the rise of pop-up shops across the retail and restaurant sectors as business owners become increasingly mobile. Pop-ups help attract customers in new areas, create brand awareness and allow retailers to test different markets with much lower start-up costs. The flexibility to sell anywhere thanks to wireless, instant payment systems has greatly helped this approach.

That is not to say that bricks and mortar won’t remain for some shops, but expect to see the cash tills disappear very soon as cashless, large vending machines become the norm, incorporating numerous recognition technologies – be that facial, image or radio frequency identification (RFID). And in the backroom or warehouse, a fully-fledged smart autonomous workforce of robotic staffers will handle ordering out-of-stock items, plan inventories and even act as chefs via your favourite takeaway app.

ACCELERATED INNOVATION MEANS THAT E-COMMERCE WILL EVOLVE TO BECOME MORE IMMERSIVE

Trying on clothes and make-up will no longer require a physical visit to a shop. Technology means that virtual mirrors can show you what make-up will look like – removing the risk and mess of trying them on in-store. If you need to talk to an assistant, that won’t be an issue either as you can talk to a member of staff via video call at the click of a button.

Would you miss seeing the shelves and wardrobes in clothing stores in front of you? Simply load up your tablet and you’ll be able to see the shop in full 360-degree view through augmented reality – navigating your way through a virtual store and not just scrolling down a seemingly limitless list of search results on a website. 

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS MEAN THAT SHOPPERS WANT PERSONALISATION

Everyone is craving customisation in the products they purchase. But this desire for customised products is most prevalent with Generation Z – who will account for 2.6 billion of the world’s population by 2030. 

Let’s say you want to buy a pair of shoes but have specific requirements to ensure the product is tailored to your personal needs.

Using digital capture, you will be able to extract the key measurements needed to produce a particular insole, and then through the advent of 3D printing, this insole can be modelled and printed on-demand for you at a nearby location.

Whether it is customised shoes, bespoke hubcaps for your car or even personalised food packaging – technology is enabling the growth of customisation which will rapidly progress throughout the 2020s as consumers look for products which have real meaning to them as individuals.

TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE IS THE ONLY DIRECTION OF TRAVEL FOR THE RETAIL SECTOR

At the start of the millennium the idea that you would be able to order products online and have them delivered to your door during the same day seemed unrealistic. Today, it is the benchmark of the retail sector.

George Brasher

Some of the predictions outlined above may seem far-fetched, but developments in these spaces are already well underway. On the basis of the megatrends outlined, all the signs point to the retail and technology sectors becoming ever closer in the next decade – resulting in a deeply immersive, increasingly automated and highly personalised industry for the consumer.

HP’s UK&I MD, George is responsible for all consumer and commercial printers and PCs, mobile devices – including retail point of sale systems, workstations, services and go-to-market activities, for the UK and Ireland.