Retail Being Reinvented: Report

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It’s no great insight to say that U.S. retailing is changing. The big changes that are coming — drone delivery, virtual reality, mobile e-commerce — are on everyone’s radar screen. Smaller changes may have at least as much impact, however, and can be a lot more difficult to tease out of the mountains of data now available to researchers.

Think about drone delivery for a moment. According to the third “Future of Retail” report from public relations and digital marketing firm Walker Sands, 40% of U.S. consumers expect to receive their first drone-delivered package within the next two years. Less than a third think drone delivery will take more than five years to get off the ground.

Why such a big number? Likely because nearly a third of U.S. consumers now shop online at least once a week and nearly three-quarters shop online at least once a month. The main reasons to shop online are speed and convenience. As Walker Sands puts it, “Consumer expectations are higher than ever for free and fast shipping, making flexibility with returns and fulfillment more important than ever.” Enter drones.

Among other major takeaways from the Walker Sands study are tighter integration of in-store and online shopping experiences; the growth of luxury e-commerce; and the relatively slow adoption of mobile payment options like Apple Pay. While all of these are significant, none is really a game-changer. From the study:

The future of retail hasn’t plateaued; we’re simply in an investment and adoption phase during which retailers’ practices and consumer behavior hasn’t caught up with technology. As a result, this year’s study is much more pragmatic than visionary, focusing on practical recommendations over aspirational technology.

Shopping in brick-and-mortar stores continues to be popular. For everything except books and consumer electronics, more consumers purchased items in a store rather than online. According to the Walker Sands study, “Clothing and apparel is the only product category where brand websites make a strong showing, demonstrating the uphill online battle most retailers face against Amazon and other third-party retailers.”

Even clothing and apparel buying may move online if virtual reality (VR) technology lives up to its billing. More than half of consumers surveyed by Walker Sands would consider VR shopping for clothes, the highest percentage among any product category.

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Methodology: The Walker Sands Future of Retail 2016 study surveyed 1,433 consumers across the United States on their shopping habits, preferences and views on emerging retail technology. The survey was conducted online in February 2016, and it has a 2.59% margin of error at a 95% confidence level.