E-commerce has exploded in the past ten years, as more people go to the Internet to buy and sell goods and services. Technology has driven much of that shift.
In coming years, changes will continue to occur, not online however, but in brick and mortar stores, according to Anita Bhappu, an associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences at the University of Arizona.
"The key thing has been about seamless integration across channels," Bhappu said. For those big retailers who have both physical stores and online marketplaces, " they can meet their consumer in whichever place the consumer is at, and can follow them through their path to purchase."
For a shopper, that might mean trying on an item in a store, looking it up later with a phone app, and then purchasing it online using a computer. The main goal for the retailer, of course, is to keep all of those steps, particularly the purchase, in-house.
But not all brick and mortar stores are set up right now to allow for a seamless transition between virtual and physical shopping. "If we are talking about the more traditional, local retailers who have physical stores but not any type of large online presence, for them, I think, the key thing at this point is how to compete. And, competition in this realm is all about customer experience," Bhappu said. That means these retailers will have to come up with other ways to "add value to the consumer above and beyond what they can get online."
Of course, for those retailers that can do it, creating a seamless shopping experience means collecting data.
"We are talking about information systems that allow them to follow the consumer and the consumer's shopping habits and/or choices through that space," she said. "That also means, from an inventory standpoint, that they are able to deploy inventory wherever necessary to get that consumer what that consumer wants, when they want it."
This does raise some questions about privacy. But privacy is not a new issue for retailers, many of whom now track shopping habits to, for example, send out coupons tailored to the individual, Bhappu said.
"If we do indeed achieve this seamless integration via technology, the question of how much information a consumer is willing to share with a retailer in order to get the experience we are talking about comes right center of this change in the environment," Bhappu said.