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Queueless, wireless shopping: a vision of the future of UK retail

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Shops that complement digital sales, from online to mobile commerce and beyond, will be the future face of UK retail. They will be queueless and wireless, offering same-day delivery with no need to book, constant stock availability and instant online content. Customers will be able to shop any time, thanks to the seamless, personalised and interactive experience offered over a variety of devices.

That’s the vision of a panel of retail experts brought together for a BT-led Retailtopia project, which also envisages stores that connect with customers before they get to them, and allow contactless payment on arrival.

Success in domestic retail will also open up new international opportunities, argues the Retailtopia panel, which included representatives from the British Retail Consortium, Which?, Nielsen, BT, Forum for the Future and Mastercard as well as former Tesco and TopShop executives. It makes 10 key predictions for the future of British retail by 2020 (see below).

But, it warns, there’s a danger that retailers will fail to make the necessary strategic investments in order to put themselves at the front of the pack.

Professor Patrick Barwise, chair of the Retailtopia panel, who is professor at the London Business School and chairman of Which?, said: “The UK is already a global leader in online shopping, with nearly £30bn of sales coming through this channel in 2011.

“But retailers face tough challenges in the current economy. There’s a danger that a focus on short-term profitability and reduced investment in innovation could damage our long-term ability to create the best shopping experience in the world and ensure we’re still a global leader in 2020.”

Those investments should focus on seven priority areas, from the use of analytics in order to tailor the shopping experience, to distribution and retailer collaborations that bring about improvements to the high street, according to the Retailtopia vision paper.

Emer Timmons, president of BT Global Services UK, said: “Networked technology has a huge role to play in delivering the next generation of retail – from the warehouse and stockroom, to the store, home and mobile device. The ability to shop for anything, anytime, anywhere will mean retailers demand significantly more from their IT infrastructure and that will show the true potential of superfast broadband in powering business success.”

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The Retailtopia ten predictions for the future

1. Despite the growth of online shopping, physical stores will still have a vital role, increasingly focused on complementing digital channels.

2. Retail experiences will become more customised, personal and interactive.

3. Retailers will offer customers a seamless branded multi-channel experience.

4. Geographical boundaries will continue to decline, so UK customers will look more actively to shop online beyond the UK – and vice versa.

5. The most successful retailers will have slashed customer waiting times both in-store and for online delivery.

6. Wireless enabled in-store environments will help retailers connect in helpful ways with customers while shopping, releasing staff from tills and empowering customers to actively use personal mobile devices.

7. Payment providers will give customers increasing confidence that they won’t fall victim to cyber-crime.

8. Retailers will use on-demand cloud-based services to reduce operating costs, enable staff to be more effective and delight customers.

9. Fulfillment of online retail purchases will be more cost-effective and efficient thanks to automation and greater co-operation between retailers and supply chain partners.

10. Social media will increasingly complement advertising as a tool in shaping consumer brand perceptions.

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