Over the last two years, the retail industry evolved faster than we could’ve imagined. Ecommerce, along with other digital channels, took center stage as new shopping habits formed and expectations drastically shifted. While we won’t be traveling in flying cars to our favorite stores anytime soon, we’re still on the fast track to a transformed shopping experience. Here’s what we can expect by 2032:
- Ecommerce will be your main shopping channel: Expect to shop digitally-only for most of your clothes, groceries and other shopping needs. In 10 years, I expect ecommerce to represent 60% (up from 21% today) of total retail sales in the United States and influence 90%+ of all retail sales (up from 70%-80% today).
We are entering the second stage of the expansion of digital — emerging from the first 20 years of the digital disruption that rewarded first movers and was mostly adjacent to many company’s core businesses. By 2032, digital will be the most important area of their business, and sectors that today have remained relatively untouched — motor vehicles and parts, convenience stores, furniture/home furnishing stores, building material, and more — will have reinvented their digital posture and orientation. As a result, we will see a new wave of innovation, with new, more immersive stores, sophisticated social media targeting, digital virtual experiences and more precise and personalized shopping than ever.
- AI and robotics will be widespread: By 2032, you should expect pickup only grocers to be open throughout the U.S., while other apparel and electronics retailers will trumpet order-to-pickup service times of under five minutes. In many retail sectors, restocking and reordering products will be led by computer models, and stores will be cleaned and restocked by robots. In addition, grocers will use robotic MFCs (microfulfillment centers) to pick and pack their goods from the store locations.
In 10 years, six out of the top 10 retailers will have large teams to support their robotic ‘employees’ and workforce. Specific robotic use cases will continue to be redefined as the cost of manufacturing drops and the reliability and capabilities of the technology improve. This will help retailers run more efficiently, even though much of it will be hidden in the backroom, after hours and in the supply chain.
- You’ll say goodbye to your mobile phone: Mobile phones will be largely gone as standalone devices; with retailers fully immersed in the metaverse by this time, we’ll see a mix of wearable screens embedded in clothing, small invisible headphones that you’ll wear whenever you are outside, and augmented reality glasses and contacts that provide a digital overlay to our daily lives.
This new technology will allow even tighter integration between the digital and physical realm during shopping. You will be able to overlay the digital world onto your day-to-day life, and mesh with in-store networks to interact, browse and check out while in the store or just passing nearby. Augmented reality data such as price, promotion and product availability will overlay directly on top of the physical world. Apps as a concept will remain, but the next experience will be far more integrated.
- You’ll have new delivery expectations: 30-minute drone delivery will likely be available in most major cities by 2032, although curbside and the role of the physical store will, surprisingly, still be important. Shipping capacity will continue to be constrained, and most packages will be delivered in two to three days to manage costs, but you’ll have easy choices for faster delivery. Drone and same-day delivery will mostly be for retailers that have a local store presence and can deliver directly from those store footprints.
- You’ll still shop in physical stores, but the experience will be transformed: By 2032, 50% of the retail footprint will be dark stores, kiosk, pickup and small footprint (less than 4,000 square feet) as stores are reimagined to be efficient for digital fulfillment. Physical stores will still exist for shopping, but with virtual, personalized storefronts. Many will operate as a contactless shopping experience, offering pickup locations or traditional try-on and product demos. Experiences will be reserved ahead of time and dedicated robotic sales associates will provide personalized shopping.
The accelerated evolution of the retail industry shows no signs of slowing down as retailers strive to keep pace with changed shopping preferences and expectations. In many cases, these changes are permanent as we’ve become accustomed to simplicity, speed and convenience. The future shopping experience will prioritize all three while combining the best of both the physical and digital world.
Hilding Anderson is VP, Head of Retail Strategy, North America at Publicis Sapient. He works with Fortune 500 companies and top global retailers to advise them on digital business transformation and how to drive higher performance in the changing digital landscape. Some of Anderson’s recent work includes shaping a business transformation roadmap for a large department store, shaping the data strategy for a large grocer, engaging with the chief digital officer of a top luxury apparel retailer in New York on GTM digital strategy and business justification, as well as partnering with a large home improvement retailer on the East Coast in experience strategy and innovation.