The Future of Retail

Online tools and social media are shaping a new retail experience

By Glenn Calabrese

As the world around us changes at a mind-boggling pace, I often get questions from my clients about what the future holds for retail stores. With a continuing erosion of sales in brick-and-mortar stores, and the increase and growing sales of e-commerce sites, many in the industry are wondering how to move forward. The industry is indeed in transition; the larger national brands are finding it hard to compete in a rapidly changing market. The smaller, more nimble retailer—which has the ability to evolve quickly and keep up—can weather the changes, potentially increasing sales year after year. While retail in 2017 continues to evolve, savvy retailers can meet the challenges that come with these changing times.

One way retailers are rethinking strategy is by further investing in their online presence, and bringing that presence back into the interior spaces of their brick-and-mortar stores. The goal is to make shopping interactive and entertaining. Many retailers are adding artificial intelligence to their stores. This not only gives guests the ability to shop actual merchandise, but it also gives them the ability to order their size or a special color online while in the store. Customers are given a solution when they need a different item than what is in the store, and retailers gain more access to styles and colors without increasing their footprint and the expense that goes along with stocking merchandise.

In addition to incorporating online tools inside the retail space, using social media has made a big impact on the shopping experience. It is not unusual to hear customers say they saw an item posted on a social media site such as Instagram or Pinterest, and that’s what led them to walk into a brick-and-mortar store. Savvy retailers need to learn how to use and navigate through social media to engage new customers. No longer are the storefront displays the only way to catch the customer’s eye. Just posting pictures online can extend your “storefront.” Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—there are so many social media outlets to use, and retailers who embrace and invest in them see big rewards. Social media is such a huge resource for drawing future buyers into the store.

POS systems have changed and advanced as well. No longer do customers have to wait in long lines, rethinking their purchases. Now, every store associate can check customers out where they are, with cutting-edge handheld mobile POS devices. This makes shopping easy and efficient. It also gives the associate the ability to add online purchases to the order.

Leaving the world of tech for a moment, let’s talk about the tools and merchandise that are actually in the store. Creating new material ways to engage shoppers once they enter the space is important. There has been a move away from in-store entertainment video walls because of the loss of merchandising space, and the cost of keeping the content fresh and relevant. Instead, the move has been toward over-placing mannequins and creating 3D presentations to bring the products to life. This trend has been growing slowly for several years now, and the pace has picked up. Today, having 15 mannequins in a 4,500-square-foot store is not unusual, and blending the merchandise plan with the displays has been productive in generating sales.

The use of oversized graphics is also growing in popularity. They are relatively inexpensive to use and thus can be changed out regularly, giving the store a fresh look every season. Custom fixture packages and hardware systems are also on the rise. This approach demands a larger monetary commitment, but works to separate the retailer from the competition, and solidifies the store in the client’s eyes as a place worthy of their business.

The overall goal is to gain a smooth, fast and efficient shopping experience that incorporates all retail spaces. Bring online into the store. Make check-out immediate and seamless. Create an online presence with social media. Use quick-change displays and unique in-store props. Brick-and-mortar retail is drastically changing. But by embracing the changes, learning new technologies and integrating them into the retail space, the future can look very bright.

Glenn Calabrese is president and CEO of Storetech Inc., which will be at SwimShow in Miami in July, and at Surf Expo in Orlando in September. For more information, visit