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Power to the people -- Retail futurologist's predictions

Consumer empowerment via new technology will see retailers fundamentally redesign their customer experience in the next 10 years, according to leading BT futurologist Ian Nield. His predictions offer UK retailers a glimpse into the future, presenting the possibility of new, ‘reverse’ revenue streams from the products they sell, but also the worrying prospect of a weakening of brand loyalty.

Within the next 5 years, consumers will be able to use their mobile devices as an instant product directory tool, identifying similar or exact products simply by pointing and capturing an image of a desired item. Combined, with the rapid development of search engine technology and integrated multi channel infrastructures, this will allow consumers to source a product in real-time, assessing its suitability based on price and similar ‘profile’ users’ reviews. Critically, once a product has been identified, the search will also locate the nearest retailer holding it in stock.

A development of this nature will force physical stores to offer an enhanced interactive shopping experience in order to attract consumers and maintain brand footfall. It also opens up the possibility, according to Neild, of open bargaining in main stream retailers, as customers come armed with the knowledge of competitors’ prices and availability without having to leave the store.

Ian Neild, BT’s futurologist, comments: “Over the next five years technology will return consumers to a position of overwhelming power. They will be able to locate any product for purchase using the internet on their device of choice. Stock availability will therefore become key. Shops will become increasingly focussed on letting you as a customer try the items, play the games or listen to the music. For clothes, you will want to feel the cloth and see how it fits and then negotiate with stores based on price, and perhaps even terms and conditions. ”

As the Web2.0 phenomena expands, consumers will increasingly rely on independent product reviews from consumers with similar characteristics and profiles to their own.
Neild added: “Maturing web communities and forums allow everyone to be an “expert” on any kind of product; instantly. This will potentially diminish the sway of brand loyalty somewhat, but other lucrative revenue streams will appear with these changes. Stores could get commission to show products to customers; just as advertisers pay for click through on websites. We are certainly looking at a world where serving the customer and 100% availability is more important than ever.”

Recent predictions from Gartner suggest that consumer’s will be empowered by on the go access to the internet via their mobile phones, predicting that by 2012 consumer mobile usage will increase by 25%.

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