Jul 20 2017
small retail future of ecommerce

Future of Ecommerce: How Small Retailers Will Change in 20 Years

Mom and Pop stores, once the bread and butter of the retail world, are all but becoming relics of a former time. As large retailers and big box stores sprawled across the country, undercutting prices while offering more inventory, smaller niche retailers simply can’t compete. Over the years, many of these shops that would try to plant their seed at a physical location have found that online or ecommerce offerings were more suitable to their needs and means.

From Amazon to Etsy, to Magento Community and Shopify, there are numerous outlets for smaller retailers to get their products in front of consumers. But what happens in 20 years time when these large retailers begin to consume one another, when name brands become less meaningful in place of price and quality, or as the desire for more meaningful experiences become vital to product sales? In the year 2037 we may not quite be on planet Mars, but one thing is certain, the face of retail and ecommerce will have drastically changed, and this is particularly true for smaller retailers and mom and pop shops. That’s why we spoke to AddShoppers, Bronto, and others about how they think small retailers will change over the next 20 years.

What role will physical retail stores play in consumer buying, and how will they have changed?

AddShoppers Cofounder Chad Ledford

I see large retail spaces (malls, department stores, etc) turning into co-op spaces for niche brands – almost like a market or expo for brands to feature their products. A place that’s fun for consumers and a launch pad for niche brands. It’s common for all top retail companies to make most of their profit from things outside of selling products (E.g. Amazon = hosting, media, etc.  Wal-Mart = real estate, services, etc.) This will continue to be true and smaller retailers will continue to find riches in niches.

Bronto Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst Greg Zakowicz

The concept of the store really hasn’t changed in 100 years. Stores have gotten bigger, but in most instances, the fundamentals are the same. You go there to purchase something and take it home the same day. I don’t think this model is doomed, even with advances in technology.

People are social by nature, and I think they will continue to want to touch, experience, and take home purchases on the spur of the moment. Assuming people will always be willing to wait for products is assuming people will no longer want immediate satisfaction. If anything, with the expectation of fast and free shipping, we are moving closer to consumers’ expecting immediate gratification.

It’s possible we will see an increase in store locations, but with less inventory. For this to be successful on a large scale, shipping cost will need to come down. Housing all inventory in several key locations around the country means retailers will have to ship one product at a time, rather than bulk ship to key stores. This might lead to one mega-store in each metropolitan city, with smaller showroom stores around the city. This will allow products to bulk ship locally without forcing retailers to build out distribution hubs around the country. As of today, Amazon and Walmart are probably in the best situation to execute this strategy.

The concept of checkout-less stores is sure to expand over the next 20 years. As technology improves in this space, I think more and more retailers will take to it. I am skeptical that it will be adopted widely by retailers. I think it is better suited to products like clothing than it is for groceries, for example.

Windsor Circle VP of Business Development Gautham Pandiyan

We’ll still have physical retail stores, but they will be all about the experience. Kind of like how live sports & concerts haven’t been disrupted by the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, etc.

Nosto Head of Partnerships Chris Nuguid

Store reps are essentially becoming the sales reps for your brand. It is their job to engage the customer when they enter and provide them with world-class in-store service. Most importantly find ways to gather all their preference data when they are in the store (i.e. things they have shopped for online, social preferences, past & present purchases – marrying the online and offline store experiences). Traditional stores will still be needed and wanted for those who like the physical activity to shopping. However, in store experiences will need to improve further to continue that loyalty, working together with how the brand handles consumers online to create a seamless customer experience truly where and when the consumer prefers.

What do you believe technologically or culturally will be the biggest factor in how consumers buy in 20 years?

AddShoppers Cofounder Chad Ledford

Peer-to-peer recommendations will always be the best source of sales. I believe this will continue but the mediums we use to communicate will continue to evolve.

It started with social events, phones, letters, etc. Our generation communicates more than ever but in unconventional ways. We communicate through text, emojis, snaps – anything that doesn’t involve us opening our mouths. It’s possible that we find a way to tap into facial expressions and cognitive signals to communicate in the future.

For example, you think you what you want to send and you create an emotion with your face.  That sends a unique thing to your peer to convey an emotion or statement.

Bronto Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst Greg Zakowicz

Virtual reality and augmented reality will play the biggest role here. I think consumers will be shopping in their living rooms using headsets, or other applicable technology, where they can try on products, see holograms or 3-D views of themselves with products. Similarly, virtual in-store shopping certainly will be more advanced than it is today. People will be able to visually shop their local brick-and-mortar store using VR or AR and have orders shipped to them.

Finally, on this same note, we can expect online-only retailers to create virtual storefronts to better connect consumers with their brands. Where an online retailer used navigation bars to direct people, they can create their own virtual stores that bring together a consistent look and feel for their brand and ease the shopping experience by allowing the user to “walk” through their stores.

Nosto Head of Partnerships Chris Nuguid

In 20 years from now it will all be about the viral real time aspect of buying from brands.  Consumers want to connect with brands every day. As store reps become sales reps a big part of the change will also include the experiential aspect when you’re in retail locations. Take a look at Nike as a great example!

What kind of jobs will be needed to support futuristic retail and ecommerce brands?

Bronto Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst Greg Zakowicz

For virtual stores, we’ll need virtual retail designers, or virtual architects. These people will be in charge of designing a virtual floor map, as is done with brick-and-mortar locations. However, knowing what works in the physical retail storefront will be quite different in a virtual storefront. Counter-clockwise shopping, brand merchandising/placement based on eye level, and size of shopping carts are not likely to be as meaningful in an online world. It will be interesting to watch how the online version evolves.

Software engineers already are becoming a permanent fixture for nearly every company, but positions in designing virtual environments, as with video game creators, will become a more common role for retailers or agencies.

I don’t believe the role of a human marketer will go away. Commerce marketing automation will make their jobs easier, surfacing data and related analytics faster, making it easier for marketers to predict ways they can boost revenue. The marketer’s role will continue to shift as consumer adoption of new marketing tactics are accepted and rejected. Humans marketing to humans always will be important.

Windsor Circle VP of Business Development Gautham Pandiyan

I hope we won’t end up in The Matrix or like the humans in that movie “Wall-E”! 🙂 Seriously, right-brainers with creativity will excel, hard for machines to mirror that. Plenty of software engineers, IT and related hardware jobs…until the AI fulfils all those functions. Red Pill or Blue Pill?

AddShoppers Cofounder Chad Ledford

Retail and ecommerce are a series of boolean logic and correlations, it’s very binary. We ask questions like: Is this almost out of stock? What’s being ordered in this location?  What’s trending?  What price converts best?

These are all questions that are asked on a daily basis that will be replaced by algorithms. We’ll go from traditional baseball mentality to moneyball decisions. Because of this, you’ll need 2 types of people. They are:

  1. Creative minds: Individuals that can set trends and captivate emotions.
  2. Analytical minds: Individuals who are able to tweak the decision making engines to become more accurate.

Nosto Head of Partnerships Chris Nuguid

More sales reps with an understanding of digital preferences, reporters to gather this date and analyze, and brand ambassadors to marry the online and offline experiences. Sales reps need to know all the details about a customer from any channel they have engaged with a brand.

Lasting Thoughts

Windsor Circle VP of Business Development Gautham Pandiyan

Think back to 20 years ago when the internet was nascent & where we are today….now Imagine 2037. Strap in!

AddShoppers Cofounder Chad Ledford

It’s an exciting time to be a technologist and a marketer. If you lean too heavily either way you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities.

Bronto Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst Greg Zakowicz

I think there will be a time within the next 20 years where there will be a bit of a technology backlash. I think people will crave the “quiet” that comes from being disconnected from the online world. Technology won’t go anywhere, but you may find people sharing less online and doing more in-person. This may lead to the re-emergence of brick-and-mortar stores as a destination, much like the shopping malls of years ago.

Elliot Volkman

Digital Marketing Manager

Elliot is Blue Acorn's Digital Marketing Manager. He hold a master's degree in communication from Gonzaga, and has several awards for journalism and digital marketing. In his spare time he is a long-distance runner and triathlete.

One Comment

Aug 01 2017

As part of a team working on the Reconnect customer retention tool, I do find some of the predictions in this article to be very interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading Greg Zakowicz’s thoughts.

Very good read!

Keep it up.


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