Not so long ago if you needed a new outfit for an upcoming birthday party or your best friend’s wedding you would head straight to the nearest high street or shopping centre to find the winning look. Fast forward ten years, and your entire ensemble could be purchased with a click of a button whilst sitting on the sofa in your living room. E-commerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe, with 2014 sales in the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Spain expected to reach a combined total of $212 billion. In the US, online sales are expected to reach $306 billion. As the appetite for online retail continues to grow, especially in light of new trends such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so too will the technology behind it.
Currently, one of the biggest gripes with online shopping, especially when it comes to buying clothes, is the amount of guesswork required. It can be difficult for the average consumer to have faith that the clothes or shoes that they have purchased over the Internet will fit properly. However, a number of stores have started to develop ‘virtual mirrors’ that use body sensors to map people’s shapes and measurements.
This means that customers can login at home, access their personal data and use an ‘avatar’ to see if an outfit is going to work prior to ordering it, theoretically cutting out the time you would usually take standing in the post office in order to return your unwanted items to the store. American men’s brand Hointer’s have implemented a similar proposition in-store, enabling shoppers to scan the QR codes on clothes labels, pick the correct size via a smartphone app, causing the chosen item to fly down a chute directly into the changing rooms.
Shoppers are increasingly concerned with convenience; many technology developments have come as a result of streamlining the purchasing process. Why go to a real store, when you can conveniently shop in a virtual store? For example, Tesco introduced a virtual store on the Seoul Metro as recently as 2011. This enabled passengers to order groceries via digital shelves that could be scanned into their smartphones on the way to work, arriving at their front door as they returned that same evening. In the UK alone, some 20% of adults do nearly all or most of their grocery shopping online, and that is only set to increase over the next decade. Companies such as Samsung, and LG are developing ‘smart fridges’ that can plan your meals, tell you when your food is off, and even order more when you begin to run out. In essence, syncing your fridge to your smart phone means that you are unlikely to ever go hungry again.
Even if you decide to leave the virtual comfort of home and venture to the high street you are unlikely to escape the clutches of modern technology. Shops in some shopping districts are increasingly installing Apple’s iBeacons, which use Bluetooth to beam personalised offers and suggestions to customers about products they might wish to buy. In the future, tailored offers will become even more prominent as shops continue to collate unlimited data on people who enter their stores. Whilst up until now, this kind of granular data has been harder to come by for actual bricks-and-mortar shops, location-based technologies promise to bridge this gap.
In the past, online shopping has been hampered by the slow standard delivery used by most stores. Whilst the shopping itself is a marvel in modern technology, the waiting around for your package is certainly not. However, online retailers have been looking in to possible alternatives. For instance, Amazon has been waiting for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US to test drones for their Amazon Prime Air delivery service, which has the potential to be revolutionary, if it ever gets off the ground. DHL and Google are set to follow suit.
Twenty years ago, on 11th August 1994, the world’s first secure e-commerce transaction took place, with a Sting CD selling in the USA to the value of $12.48. Today, the UK spends more per capita through the internet than any other country. In the past decade alone online retailers’ offerings have grown exponentially. For example, Amazon has gone from selling books to offering more than 100 million different products. The future of online retailing, however, is not necessarily about who has the largest offering, but rather personalisation. The success of retailers will depend on how they interact with their target customers and how well they market their range of products in the advent of advances in technology