Candezent Advisory Partner Gwen Morrison On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail
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Candezent Advisory Partner Gwen Morrison On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail

Dec 22, 2020

This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of Brick and Mortar Retail series featuring interviews with industry experts and thought leaders with the goal of providing actionable insights that can help brick and mortar retailers prepare for what lies ahead.  

The following is an interview we had with Gwen Morrison, Partner, Candezent Advisory.

What are the 3-5 top trends that will shape brick and mortar retail in 2021?

GM: 2020 has brought tremendous irregularity to shopping patterns and has redefined consumer needs. Navigating the global health crisis has been extremely stressful, especially for those in urban cities. “ Stay at Home” directives have taken a social, emotional and for many a financial toll on shoppers. I see the following global trends:

1. Digital Enhancements of the in-Store Experience

The Emotional Need for Safety as a requirement has tremendous implications for brick and mortar retail. It’s driving the increase of on-line sales around the world. Consumers need to know they will be safe when entering a store and that goes well beyond wearing a mask. Sanitation protocols include investment in air filtration systems to rethink the more congested areas where shoppers stand in line. So meat counters, service areas, and certainly the check-out zones need to be reconfigured. With restrictions on how many shoppers can be in a store at one time, retailers must consider what shoppers really need to see on the shelf. For example with more options for curbside pick- up, do shoppers really need to see the replenishment products they purchase regularly?  If these are instead fulfilled in the back of the store based on previous orders, there would be more time for shoppers to see and experience more aspirational categories.

So the challenge is to dissect what parts of the shopping experience can be achieved from home, and how can the “dreaming” part of retail be accomplished with less interaction with other shoppers and sales associates.

2. Physical Retail as part of the new Borderless Shopping. 

With the increase of social shopping, streaming, influencers and content -based shopping, the pressure is on for Brick and Mortar retail to be more than a place to find products. Retailers need to curate experiences and help customers achieve their goals. Connecting in-store inspiration with content that can be accessed from home connects the brick and mortar with the always-on shopper journey.

3. The Convergence of Commerce and Entertainment

Also in context of the Pandemic, automated, interactive retail has the potential to transform shopping malls.  As “Centers of Commerce”, malls have to be reimagined as places where brands deliver entertainment and content through agile hubs. Shopping from interactive windows and surfaces that capture data will be in the not- so- distant future.  Think of brick and mortar retail as a tech-savvy combination of out – of- home media and interactive shopping. Autonomous, interactive retail can take the form of vending, Kiosks, Pop-up Shops and zones within modern department store formats.

4. Community building takes place at home, not in the stores.

The flagship stores and malls that brought together running clubs, yoga studios, and other hands- on events need to replicate these experiences at home. For example, a number of liquor brands have delivered artisanal cocktail making through AR/ VR tutorials. Retailers need to develop concepts for how their consumers can participate with them from home. 

What technologies will have the biggest impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021? 

GM: AR and VR will continue to be developed. They meet different objectives including delivering an endless aisle, where departments can be presented with less physical space.  They also help deliver virtual try-ons combining digital apps and augmented reality,  to allow consumers to try out more items and avoid small space dressing rooms, and to visualize products in their homes.

Voice is in an exciting stage of development and will continue to grow. With more devices offering personal assistants, the possibilities are endless.

Shoppers can speak twice as fast as they can key in product search, and their intent is more defined. The accuracy of matching products through voice search will encourage retailers to develop their own voices to better connect with shoppers.

The combination of voice and visual is an exciting space. Voice commands that result in a visual display of product options will deliver a more human experience through technology.

Digital payments will continue to grow. Paying restaurant bills through apps reduces contact with staff and streamlines service steps.

AI was a disappointment in 2020 because the year was not predictable. Talent is needed to uncover actionable insights from data, as the data itself does not necessarily predict the future. 

For me, bringing technologies together to create seamless shopping experiences is more exciting than the technologies themselves. With visual recognition, hyper-local geo-fencing, purchase history, and the voice/ visual search we have the foundation for meeting the shopper in any situation. 

What should brick and mortar retailers be doing now to prepare for 2021? 

GM: Retailers need to prioritize technology investments while re-evaluating their physical footprints and banners. They also need to think of their core business in terms of Policy, Promotions, and Products. How do we reflect our brand on the inside and out? How do promotions help us communicate? How do we get the right products and assortments that optimize performance? Again, 2021 priorities must be delivered in the context of health and safety.

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