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Over the last number of years there has been a significant increase in the number online sales. In 2017, ecommerce was responsible for around $2.3 trillion in sales and is expected to hit $4.5 trillion in 2021. In the US alone, ecommerce represents almost 10% of retail sales. There is no avoiding that the growth of online sales are fast outpacing the growth of brick and mortar sales. As a result, this has many people wondering what the future for retail will look like?

One of the main reasons consumers are engaging in online shopping is convenience. In today’s world, consumers are busier than ever and are seeking convenience. Online shopping is simple and can be done anywhere, at any place and at any time. Consumers are purchasing online from their phone as they commute to work,while they are at work or as they watch television. Consumers are becoming accustomed to instant and regular shopping as a result of fast delivery, which is another factor contributing to the increase of online sales. Today with innovations in technology, such as drone technology and online retailers developing their own delivery chains, the norm is now a 2-day delivery. With very short delivery times, shopping online becomes extremely more convenient, no doubt driving future demand for it too.

Despite online sales increasing, physical retailers are here to stay as the vast majority of purchases are still offline. According to,  American’s spend 64% of their shopping budget in store and 36% online. So, it’s not all bad news for physical retailers. There a number of strategies that brick and mortar stores can implement now and in the future to ensure that they can compete effectively with ecommerce.

1. Experience 

Physical stores can create experiences for consumers that cannot be replicated online. The retail landscape is changing, customers are no longer looking to just purchase products, but they are looking to create memories. Retailers can engage in experiential marketing, this involves creating an experience for the consumer by immersing them in a experience or a product. Retailers utilizing this strategy want to help customers form memorable, emotional connections with a brand to foster customer loyalty.The concept of experiential marketing is that if executed correctly, it can drive positive word of mouth as consumers will naturally want to share it.

Unlike online, physical retail stores allow customers to go through entirely different experiences. It’s important that retailers do not overlook the elements that contribute to the customers experience in store. Factors like smells, sounds and human interaction found at a store are hard to replace and no doubt will be a driving factor for brick and mortar survival.

2. New Technologies 

The future of retail will very much depend on the retailers ability to constantly adapt to new technologies that will enable them to compete effectively with ecommerce. Brands need to re imagine the total in-store experience and technology is key. Consumers are already familiar with technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented and Virtual reality. Even if consumers cannot identify these technologies by name, consumers have expectations that either AI, VR and AR will assist them when they enter a store.

Artificial Intelligence: 

One of the great retail applications for Artificial Intelligence is personalization and creating a more engaged business- customer interaction. Artificial intelligence can gather detailed customer information including customers patterns and preferences, which will allow retailers to tailor their marketing messages to their customers. For example, luxury fashion retailer ” Fartech” has enhanced the retail experience by collecting customer data while they while they browse in store. In Fartech’s fitting rooms, their smart mirror technology allows shoppers to request different sizes, colours or items. The customers information is stored on Fartech’s customer database, so the company can use that information to identify the customer’s preferences,their personal style and their purchasing history.

Physical retailers often lack the ability to retrieve essential customer information unlike online e-tailers. Physical retailers in the future will have to employ AI technology, to create a seamless and personalized customer experience that will allow them to compete effectively with ecommerce.

Virtual Reality:

Virtual reality is another technology that brick and mortar stores can take advantage of to enhance the overall retail experience for the customer.In fact, VR can be used to create a much more compelling experience and add real, tangible benefits for the retailer. VR technology is still relatively new technology, and if used in physical stores it should naturally drive footfall into the store, creating a buzz. In turn, this could lead to increased dwell time and could result in increased conversions.

For example, ” Timberland” unveiled a virtual fitting room using Kinect and digital signage technology that enables passersby to virtually try on Timberland clothing. The virtual fitting room also tackled the problem most shopper’s face, which is the fitting room, often the least favorite part of shopping.

The power of VR is that it transforms the customers retail shopping experience, often turning what might be a dull and tedious experience into something much more fun.

3. Personalization

Consumers are demanding greater personalization at every level of the shopping experience. According to a recent survey, 44% of customers say they will likely become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience.However, things are changing as retailers now recognize the significance of personalization. Giant retailer ” Target” for example, are now able to offer shoppers discounts in real time depending on their individual journey through a physical store.

According to a recent survey, 41% of customers say that they expect sale representatives in a physical store to know what they have purchased online. However, only 19% have experienced this. ” Glossier”, a cosmetics and skincare company plan to introduce a new point-of-sale system, which will inform sales representatives of a customer’s purchasing history both offline and online.

Despite the doom and gloom being reported in certain retail sectors and the increase of online sales, brick-and-mortar retail is very much alive and well. However, the future of retail will depend on the retailer’s ability to adapt, to become an innovative store, one that offers superior shopping experiences through new technologies.


 A C.I.T Intern, Marketing Department. I’m a dedicated and motivated Marketing Student studying at Cork Institute of Technology, passionate about all things Marketing. My achievements to date include winning the CIT 2018 brand challenge as well as being shortlisted to present market research project to the Marketing team of a large retail outlet. I consider myself to be creative, dependable and I have a positive attitude in the working environment. After completing my degree I hope to put into practice the skills and knowledge I have acquired to pursue a career in retail marketing.