Hollywood science fiction blockbusters such as Minority Report, which foretells the use of iris scanner recognition technology and biometric authentication in the retail environment, have given us a small yet fascinating glimpse of what the future might hold for consumers of the future. But what of retail reality?
Globally-renowned design agency FITCH, which has been at the forefront of retail conceptualisation for the past 35 years having been a fundamental influence on today’s high street, is perfectly placed to lay out its vision of the ‘store of the future’.
Consumers of the future
But what will influence tomorrow’s consumers? Increased foreign travel and exposure to outside influences has dramatically broadened their horizons and there is a growing openness to other cultures and styles. Creativity is now about sampling and fusion.
As a result, tomorrow’s brands need to blend in the best ingredients and treatments the world has to offer, offering a continued growth of ‘authentic’ brands – from origins to shelf – with a compelling story.
Other vast cultural changes are afoot. Today’s web-savvy consumers are ‘uploading’ not ‘downloading. There is a new generation of consumers that have never known a world without the internet. These changes are born out by the fact that UK internet shoppers spend almost twice as much as continental Europeans. Brands must therefore embrace technology until such time as web shopping becomes an integral and effortless process.
Usually when consumers buy a product they compare prices and features. What we are now seeing is a more judgmental and less forgiving consumer – what we call ‘conscience consumption’ – who consider the actions and ethical performance of the manufacturers.
There are already estimated 1.5m conscience consumers in the UK – this figure is predicted to rise rapidly to 3.9m by 2009 – while the cost to errant brands through consumer boycotts currently stands at £3.2bn. Brands are being compelled to behave honestly and openly, as well as forge a stronger connection with the community.
Additionally, growing public and media awareness of environmental issues is leading consumers to make greater personal efforts to reduce climate change and ‘food miles’ – for example, the average item we buy in our supermarkets has travelled 1000 miles. Consequently, tomorrow’s brands must embrace green thinking – whilst accepting that green won’t necessarily command a premium in the future – and develop design that appeals to both the left and right.
Consumers are exhibiting a growing sense of distrust, having been exposed to some critical events recently that have led them to question our social and commercial institutions, as well as the brands they buy. Recent research undertaken by Fitch highlights that 62% of consumers no longer trust everyday social institutions to meet their needs, while over half do not believe brands are interested in improving consumers’ lives. This, in part, has led to the meteoric rise of rise of ‘Generous Brands’ such as Innocent, whose laid back and earthy approach to business fits with the current backlash against the dubious ethics of Enron-style conglomerates.
In a world of fragmented interests and remote technologies, retailers must find ways to reconnect with people around them as well as build a sense of commonality, shared interested and humanity. London’s Science Museum is a perfect example of how communal spaces and brand connectivity have been combined to achieve such an aim.
Safe and simple
Overwhelmed by choice, consumers are increasingly looking to brands and retailers to make decisions for them. They want products and services that are relevant to them and fit with their lifestyle. Consider that there are currently approximately 6,000 product combinations on a Starbucks menu, while 400-700 new brands are added everyday to the 2.1m brands tracked by TNS media intelligence. Here the argument that ‘less is more’ surely wins out? The future’s brands need to strictly edit the ranges they have on offer, whilst also providing a ‘my kind of brand’ point of view.
Rising levels of crime and fear of terrorism are also making consumers cautious. The high street is crowded and unfamiliar, with shoppers increasingly staying put and instead seeking the safety of their own community (this is born out by the fact that 45% of people in the UK are now ex-directory). Brands must be seen as trustworthy, reliable, comfortable and reassuring at every brand touch point.
Consumers also now crave assistance in all areas of their life, where no task is too simple or too personal, and moving towards a ‘do-it-for-me’ culture. They are prepared to pay a premium for services that save them time or hassle. Brands need to strive to develop innovative ideas and services that save time, in turn enabling customers to do more in less time in-store.
The internet and global communications are providing consumers with a platform to share ideas and information. There is a growing realisation that working together can influence brands and enact change. Today, consumers as a group are capable of changing attitude, communication and behaviour of a brand – the fact it took flawedmusicplayer.com (set up by one disgruntled owner after his iPod nano screen shattered in under a week) only 19 days to make Apple change its returns policy for its faulty batch is a perfect case in point.
There is a tremendous growth in group sites such as Team.Buy.com.cn or blogs such as Crowdstorm.com and, far from being concerned, retailers need to embrace social networking sites as a crucial referral tool.
There is also a fundamental shift in the way we place value on products and experiences. Consumers, such as those who find a great deal on eBay, now express their identity through how little they’ve spent on something and how enjoyable it was. According to Fitch, 68% said they automatically trust brands that have a “tell it like it is” mentality – with this is mind, tomorrow’s brand will need to trade up and down as well as demonstrate transparent pricing.
Incorporating this thinking into our designs for the retail store of the future, FITCH believes that supermarkets will need to rise to another level, both architecturally and in terms of the services it provides.
Supermarkets will need to take a new approach to master planning, focusing more on:
- Urban renewal
- Surrounding parkland/lakes
- Community housing
- The Building
Architecture will become ‘ecotecture’, blending in rather than standing out. Supermarkets of the future will:
- Use recyclable materials throughout construction
- Impact positively on their surroundings
- Develop new building styles/types/formats – pushing the boundaries
- External Service
Service within supermarkets will rise to a higher level, concentrating on forming a strong and real connection to the consumer by providing:
- Allotments for rent
- Electric car charge points
- Eco shuttle buses (taking you and your shopping home)
- Deliveries by train
- Check In
Supermarkets will become stores in which you ‘check in’ rather than check out by offering:
- Pay-as-you-go shopping
- One swipe for other services
Supermarkets will also need to become a leisure destination to distinguish between ‘doing’ and ‘going’ shopping. They must also differentiate between shopping for groceries online e.g. Travel centre, gym, health services, shopping, demo areas and café. Consumers will be able to browse goods on screens, receive information on food miles clocked up by the ingredients in their foods and see how it is farmed.
Non-food products will be displayed in a ‘lifestyle area’ where consumers browse and shop in a more engaging and inspiring way. This is opposed to the current ‘fast track’ practice of shopping for non-food products in the same way as food products are sold, which is not very lifestyle-based.
The selling of fresh food within supermarkets will be a move back to our core, historic shopping habits – a future that resembles our past – where food is organic, local, fresh and delivered daily. One way in which this will be achieved is by introducing an in-store ‘farmers’ market’ where food can be displayed in a more natural, relaxing environment.
The selling of grocery within supermarkets will become eco-responsible by focusing on products not packaging. The design challenge here is to display products in such a way that makes the merchandise display as appealing as the old packaged products. This can be achieved through:
- ‘Depackaging’ – getting rid of unnecessary wrapping and focus on the products. Refill sections, for instance, would be as inspiring as the packaging once was.
- Branded areas – as retailers remove packaging from the brands they will need to create departments for them e.g. The Kellogg’s merchandising display, the Persil merchandising display etc.
Tim Greenhalgh, Chief Creative Officer of FITCH remarks, “This exercise has really allowed us to use all of our experience and understanding of retail environments and think about how tomorrow’s supermarkets might operate. “We combined imagination with hard consumer insight and intelligence to provide a vision of how we may shop in the near future.”
Lucy Unger, Managing Partner of FITCH EMEA adds, “I’m delighted with the way our planning department combined their insight into current and future retail trends with our creative teams to produce this thorough, realistic and genuine vision of the future.”