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NPR discusses the future of retail


December 14, 2012

National Public Radio's Audie Cornish has been exploring the evolution of the American shopping experience and recently interviewed retail architect M.J. Munsell and retail consultant Bob Hetu. The discussion speculated on what a typical shopping experience in the future might look and feel like. According the conversation, shoppers of the future will have a digitally enhanced and highly personal retail experience.

Read below for an excerpt of the transcript:

CORNISH: So we've had a tour through the store of the future. But what will our shopping experience look like in the future? Those are the kind of decisions Bob Hetu makes as a retail consultant. He works with major retailers as they look into the future.

Hi there, Bob.

BOB HETU: Hello, Audie.

CORNISH: So we've just heard about this brave new world of, you know, digital dressing rooms and hyper-customized shopping experience when we go into physical stores of the future. But what is the sort of thing that you're telling retailers would be a good investment to help build the shopping experience?

HETU: Well, we're really focused on something that I refer to as either back to the future of retail. You know, one of the things that we're talking a lot with retailers about today is the idea of personalization; the idea that we understand you as a consumer and we can present to you products that will really appeal directly to you, at a price that makes sense - promotional activity that makes sense - for you as an individual.

CORNISH: So I have to assume that this is a ramping up of all that data they're collecting on us these days, right? In the future, they'll know what dress I want before I step in the store?

HETU: Yeah, ideally it is. You know, retailers for a long time have had what we call big data, which is, you know, just a huge amount of information available to them. But now it's gotten significantly more complicated because when you think about it, they have, you know, additional, you know, social media activity, you know, varieties of loyalty program data.
And now they're putting together both that structured point-of-sale information, which is what you bought, when, with some of those unstructured things that are about you as a person, in order to help develop a better customized assortment of products for you.

CORNISH: So what's the role of the store in that?

HETU: Well, the store is still very, very important. We're still forecasting store to be above 80 percent of sales still, at least through 2015 into 2016. And, you know, the future of it looks like we're going to see where people have registered online; maybe their cell phone number is part of the loyalty program. And they may be aware that you have pulled into the parking lot, or you've entered the door, and they might be able to greet you by name.

They may be able to offer you, you know, the ability to view certain products that they know - based on your past buying experience - are things you might like to have.

CORNISH: Now, Bob, you said that this is a consumer-oriented experience. But it also sounds a little bit creepy...