In 10 years’ time, will a shopping expedition feel like you’re in a Star Trek movie?  Possibly so.

The significance the on-line retail phenomenon is hard to overstate.  On paper, and assuming convenience is the only element at play in the retail environment, the end of “bricks and mortar” shopping might seem inevitable.  

But many people like "actual" shopping, particularly where it comes with a great retail experience:  visiting an attractive store, seeing a curated range of quality goods for sale, knowing where it all came from, and being able to have an informed conversation about what you're looking at with engaged sales people.  These shoppers are not always rational when it comes to price.

The on-line designer fashion business sees its future in just this group.

Farfetch.com is a major international online fashion site, stocking 100s of high-end designer fashion brands (including two NZ brands – Georgia Alice and taylor). It’s essentially a giant on-line department store that, in a market where some bricks and mortar department stores are struggling, has grown massively and has some impressive plans for its future - largely based on its ever-increasing stock of customer data.

Farfetch has revealed its Store of the Future.  This remains a physical store, but revamped to deliver a premium customer experience using all that technology has to offer to do so. The goal is to create bespoke customer experiences for each brand, in each store, to drive a personalised, meaningful experience for each customer. All available data will be used to achieve an enhanced retail experience, benefiting customers and suppliers alike. The retailers (in this multi-brand environment) will have visibility on what is happening in store – utilising data collected while shoppers are browsing in-store (or “offline cookies”), and the website will deliver a great on-line presence, thus creating a complete omni-channel offering, helping both retailer and shopper. The end result could well be a store that seems to know more about you and your tastes than you do.

So what might this data-heavy shopping trip actually look like?  How does this sound?

  • advertisements targeted specially at you, displaying – to you specifically – as you go around;
  • specially created “tours” taking you to the brands the data suggests you like, or might like;
  • targeted brand imagery displaying – to you – those parts of the relevant brand’s experience that the data suggests will resonate with you;
  • limited amounts of in-store stock, but projected imagery showing 360 views of you in the garments you have selected;
  • garments you identify projected with other items already in your wardrobe;
  • a human assistant offering genuinely helpful views about what you are "trying on" (I’m pleased about this, as I’m am not yet convinced I could trust a robot to do this);
  • ability to buy on-line as you go around;
  • your new stuff delivered, by a drone, to your door before you get home.

In some ways, this might be the best of both the on-line and off-line fashion retail worlds (or the worst, depending on how you feel about shopping, and the power of ‘big data’).

 Standing back though, I am optimistic that the retail future will still have places that can be visited and explored with others – where you can see what’s for sale, and then buy it (or not), all in a convivial social environment. I’m OK if it’s on some sort of holodeck, or the equivalent I can’t imagine, and I’m hoping all that data will be used to positive effect while I’m here.