Tomorrow’s shopping? It’s +

It happens sometimes to talk to people who say so many interesting things that it is a pity to summarize in short article. It occorred to me a while ago after interviewing Silvia Barbieri, RetailWatch editor and expert on strategies at Futurebrand for this story about the future of shopping, published on la Repubblica on Feb 22nd:

Here is the whole text, that explains in detail Barbieri’s theory on the dawn of a new era in which stores will turn into entertaiment and cultural centers and will progressively abandon their commercial purposes. Because for actual shopping, we will use the web.

You have recently stated that the era of retail as a necessary place for physical, commercial exchanges is over. Can you please explain? The digital a rivolution continues to adjust habits and behaviours while at the same time providing ever newer criteria for selection and purchase. From books to technology but certainly also in the fashion arena, internet now makes it possible to us to buy whatever we like following a 24/7 model, with a mere click. The content of the service is thus extremely high. But not only: also choice is virtually unlimited, certainly much bigger than anything we could ever dream of in a physical store.

E-shops will thus continue to grow and satisfy this need of practicality, immediateness, comfort and selection. The question thus is: what needs do you provide answers to today when we decide to enter a traditional shop? We will do it less and less to actually purchase something since we do it (and will continue to do it) on the internet. The desire that drives us is the experience, which I call SHOPPING+: the drive to enter a sort of wonderland where we know we will be absorbed and caught. The fascination process could – actually should – change according to the brand. There could be thousands of forms for this allure: a sensorial experience, a one-to-one service, a super luxurious approach, a changing room that is more like a living space where you can chat with your friend, an art exhibition, a corner where you can browse special books, a multi-media story teller… whatever. But something will have to be there to draw us in and stores will have to turn into multi-layered experiences in which shopping merges with senses, culture, and where brands turn into shows. The rule is: less function, more entertainment: future shops will be exactly this: amusement parks where one can fall in love and find once again the pleasure of desire, places in which luxury if not only sold but actually created day by day. What matters of brands is the capacity to create these experiences and to do so in line with their actual character and personality.

And forget about the war between virtual and physical. The brands who opened their own eshop are now actually more successful in their physical stores: the two channels co-exist happily. Actually, they reinforce each other as consumers search for experiences in both directions, at different moments in time.

What are the new frontiers of SHOPPING+? We have seen stores that turn into cinemas or exhibition centers (I am thinking of L’EToile by Louis Vuitton in Rome for instance), barbers who become wellness centers-cum-shop (Loro Piana at Wonderfool in Rome), outstanding installation that tell the story of the brand (Pirelli PZero and Excelsior in Milan). What do you think we will see next? The Excelsior approach will continue: the valorization of the physical space and its history is an intelligent way to provide character and unicity, two every key values for brands. What we need is to go beyond the boredom of globalization. People have had enough of shopping high streets that look exactly the same in NY or Singapore. By personalizing spaces according to location, stores will also have a more positive impact on the life of the community that hosts them. It has already been happening: from the former church by McGregor in Belgium to the workshop-bookshop opened by Nike in the Marais in Paris. We will see this more and more.

And we will see a spreading of the Pirelli model: let’s imagine locations in which the history and the knowhow of brands will not only be told – all fashion brands already do this in their commerials, from Gucci to LV – but actually shown. We will be able to see a bag or a jacket made live in front of our very eyes: it’s already happening in the food industry, isn’t it?

It goes without saying that windows will acquire an increasingly important role: not only as show off places for goods but to actually capture the passers-by’s attention: just look at what Repetto did in its store near the Opéra in Paris: a digital dancer in the window interacts with potential customers while presenting the famous French brands shoes at the same time.

Food will also play a key role: it will be one of the reasons for which we will enter a fashion store, and spend time in it. We will be having aperitifs in a nice store or breakfast, possibly reading a daily newspaper sitting on a table. And we will be pampered: expect wellness centers…

Another place within stores that will acquire extra importance are the changing rooms: they will no longer be mere places where to check the goods and try them on but chatting corners where people will be able to interact with each other in an informal, pleasant environment. Their architectural logic will have to be completely reconceived. Some examples? Ann Taylor and Anthropologie,.

Last, but not least, there will be a further digital transformation of spaces: new technology will merge more and more with reality and will augment it, hence offering new possibilities in story telling, product customization and style suggestions. Customization will play a key role as well as curated consumption. Curatorship will include not only clothes but also all sorts of product categories that brands wish to be associated with: flowers, books, perfumes, movies, art pieces…Inside Oxfam Curiosity Shop, where vintage objects often given for free by celebrities are sold for charity, QR Codes tell the story of each item. Let’s imagine thus a blurring between digital and physical, food and fashion, genius loci e brand, indoor and outdoor, private and social spheres, coherence and surprise. It will be all very intriguing indeed.

Sartoriality and customization: how much will it actually count and how much will it be supported by digital tools? It will matter lots. And more. It is actually one of the tools that can continue to nourish the concept of exclusivity that any fashion brand is after. In a world in which the distance between the very rich and the very poor is widening – with the middle class disappearing – the rich will increasingly be after things that are just for them and exclusivity is quickly turning into uniqueness. This trend will be translated also in the physical retail spaces: let’s imagine spaces like privés where customers will select made-to-measure garments. The flavour that we will be proposed with in stores will be based on “I see-I do not see”: everyone will be able to get a glimpse of what happens inside but only the happy few will be able to get in and get the experience. Digital technologies will play a big role in this but, again, only through intergration with the actual retail spaces. The web will take up the fidelization role and will facilitate ongoing relationships.

So SHOPPING+ will be just for the happy few? How much does the average consumer care about a cultural offering? After all he will always think that in some way he will be the one paying for it, one way or the other. Wouldn’t he rather have a lower price?

Shopping+ matters for everyone because everyone is interested in the digital revolution, everyone is playing a role in it, albeit in various ways. If I can buy Zara clothes via internet, why should I ever enter a Zara store? Because I am after the Shopping+ experience. All brands will dive into this. And I believe that this will become increasingly a sort of 3D communication whose additional costs will be considered as advertising ones by the brands. Possibly they will decide to invest less on the traditional challens and more in this area. It will not be consumers to pay for it – not more than they already do with commercials.

Let us not forget that entertainment and low cost can happily go hand in hand: Uniqlo ins Regent Street has invented  Happy, an enormous vending machine filled up with items sold each hour in rotation at amazingly low prices!

About Laura Traldi

I am a journalist at D la Repubblica. I also have a blog about #design that sometimes makes people talk. Visit
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