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Smart new world of shopping

Digitization is changing our shopping experience.

More of everything, please – technology, experience, comfort! The things in our everyday lives are getting smarter, retail is reinventing itself, robots are learning to run and drones will soon be flying through a shopping cosmos that will leave us speechless.

Digital displays help us shop Digital displays help us shop ©Imago

The things in our everyday lives are becoming smarter and smarter – and thereby also changing our shopping cosmos. For example, shopping carts know exactly who their shopper is, purposely remaining on their shopper’s heels by themselves and avoiding obstacles. The price tags of tomorrow are smart, communicative digital displays that send information about ingredients, allergens, product reviews and our location to our smartphone. The smart shelf offers further enhancement. It understands our gestures and when we point to a product, it sends additional information to our screen, such as nutritional value, origin and ecological footprint. And when we’re done, we pay by smartphone – without having to wait in a queue – and receive a suitable recipe recommendation for the foodstuffs on our receipt to boot.

Smartphones as purchasing support Smartphones as purchasing support ©Getty Images

The smartphone is definitely the star of the future – our best friend, the manager of our lives and the ultimate interface to just about anything. We wind through the building and technology store with our smartphone, guided by directions we receive from the store app, which uses our stored shopping list to keep us from wandering around helplessly between aisles 2 and 49. Our phone reads the QR codes of offers from the illuminated display at the bus stop and tempts us to succumb to an impulse purchase. Our smartphone is already communicating with our refrigerator, which has also acquired a few more IQ points, providing information about its content and sounding alerts when, for example, we’ve run out of milk. Whether it’s newsletters, personalized shopping recommendations, offers or discounts from shops we like to frequent, the vendor’s information that the ordered goods have arrived or just that a novel by our favorite author has hit the shelves – everything reaches us via smartphone. Or we can use it to create 3D projections of items of furniture from catalogs and the Internet, so that we can see what these would look like in our living room or kitchen before ordering. “The smartphone will be the central buying element of the future. And the Internet will remain the primary information medium”, summarizes Dr. Kai Hudetz, Managing Director of the Institute for Commercial Research (IFH) in Cologne.

Two things are key to this development – firstly, the speed at which things change. “Technology is always developing faster than we think. As soon as the consumer experiences real added value, the technology is adapted at a rapid rate”, says Hudetz, an expert in retail in the digital age. Secondly, customer expectations will keep steadily increasing. In the years to come, there will always be a little more – more buying experience, quality, convenience, service. Experts like Hudetz believe that all shopping channels, from catalogs to online and offline shops, grow in sync. The best way for retailers to deal with this is by developing new concepts, such as the Click & Collect system – buy online and pick up the goods at the store. “Overall, there will be more flexible formats”, the specialist speculates. Stationary trade will complement the online trade, but it will undergo a transformation and offer us things we won’t get from clicking. “When I buy online, I buy ‘just’ a product – jeans, shoes. In a physical store, I additionally receive advice, service, attention, an experience.”

Moreover, we could still get extensive information from the Internet, so that “in the end, the vendor will become important again – for advice, measurement or price negotiations”, says retail specialist Hudetz. In addition, there would be good opportunities for personal, individual concepts such as the corner shop, because “there is no development without counter-development.” This means that large retail stores will become a rarity and we will see more small shops, showrooms and pop-up stores with an event character and a lot of technology. For example, someone who sells stoves, ovens and refrigerators will also offer crockery and seminars on nutrition in a small space that keeps moving location. In the kitchen studio lounge there will be coffee and cake on hand, warm and fresh from a new model oven. Fashion or product shows will take place on stages, where one can handle the goods at the same time and try them out.

In the planning office, technical consultants will design the new kitchen using a 3D tool, discuss special wishes and the use of corners. VR glasses will provide new perspectives when the wearer looks into a fridge. Dressing rooms will provide advice via touch screens – we will scan the bar code of the selected item of clothing and tell the system what should happen next; for example, that the vendor should bring us the suit we tried on in dark blue instead of gray. At the same time, the smart dressing room will be rapidly learning what we want and what our shape and size is and making corresponding product suggestions.

A robot delivers goods A robot delivers goods ©Hermes

Once we have made our decision, we will tap “buy” and march off with our spoils to the checkout, where our finalized bill and the tablet-supported salesman will be waiting – unfortunately, even in the future we will still have to pay. The vendor will record our data in order to get feedback on our satisfaction later by email or SMS. And if we don’t want to carry our bags home ourselves, he will order us a bicycle courier, a robot or a drone. These three forms of delivery are looking at a bright future. In inner cities, retailers mostly make use of bicycles or, alternatively, bring-along systems, such as the one Walmart is currently testing with the two ride-sharing startups Uber and Lyft for delivering online orders. “Drones and robots will not be a service for the masses”, Hudetz reckons. “Speed and convenience also come at a price. However, there certainly are fields of application that are predestined for this technology, such as delivery of spare parts and urgently needed medications.” Transport companies have already for some time been testing a wide range of possible applications for drones, such as delivery to addresses in remote areas. A DHL package copter is already struggling bravely through all kinds of weather to secluded alpine pastures. Logistics service providers are planning four- to six-wheeled transport boxes that will soon roll past dogs and human beings alike. Hermes is testing delivery robots in the vicinity of package shops; in the medium term they are planning a service for pharmacies and grocers.

Alternatively, drones and robots will swarm from the delivery vehicle. Large company buildings, warehouses, hospitals, factory premises, hotels and shopping centers could become future operational areas. And at the end of the day, there will in all likelihood always be someone who will pay for it – or transport their own goods with drones and robots, self-constructed under their own brand. After all, the future also belongs to 3D printing, which makes these kinds of things much easier. In short, Hudetz predicts that “from the consumer’s point of view, everything will be better, faster, more transparent” – very soon. The new shopping cosmos of unimaginable possibilities is only just beginning to take shape.

Text: Ulrike-Johanna Badorrek

Photo teaser image on start page: ©Getty Images
Photo at top: ©iStock

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