How ‘Retail of Tomorrow’ Resembles X-Men’s Mystique: Shapeshifting, Omnipresent, and Ever More Disruptive

By: Ivy Lu, Director of Partnership, WPP Data Alliance

June 2018— Amidst varied discussions on wearable tech, spoken commerce, connected cities and proximity targeting, WPP’s Global Retail Forum this June helped marketers sketch out a first draft of the ‘retail of tomorrow,’ and it seems to resemble my favorite X-men character, Mystique, in many surprising ways. Here’s why:

There are no clearly defined ‘shapes’ for the future of retail—nor does there need to be

What is retail? Is it defined by brick-and-mortar stores, or shopping online?

Bryan Gildenberg, Chief Knowledge Officer of Kantar Consulting proposes that by 2025, thedistinction between e-commerce and physical retail will no longer matter. As traditional retailers venture increasingly into the online and mobile space, Amazon is actually building more and more AmazonGO and self-service book stores. This is partially because converting a pure in-store or online shopper to shopping both ways actually generates twice as much consumer spend on both channels (Walmart Media Group). Aptly coined ‘the collapsing funnel,’ this underlines the importance of marketing to an all-aware, all-consuming shopper, and diminishes the importance of a traditional marketing ‘channel.’ As technology enables more integrated and hybrid business models, retail is moving beyond the boundaries of a traditional channel. (Next time you’re asked to make a channel strategy slide for your retail client, consider putting up a picture of the many shapes of, well, shapeless Mystique.)

Retail is Omnipresent: ‘Any Surface is a Store, and Anyone a Retailer’

Some of the most edgy retailers today almost use exclusively mobile strategies to drive sales and brand loyalty, and there was a day when having a website counted as channel innovation. But a ‘surface’ isn’t necessarily a screen – Amazon’s 100 million prime members are growing more comfortable by the day to shop via Alexa, and China is beating us to the chase with facial payment technologies.

Hungry for snacks on your Uber ride? Cargo is installing mini vending machines in cars. Want to shop your friends’ wardrobe? Instagram is letting anyone become a retailer with shoppable, in-post tags. In an age where any surface is a store and anyone a retailer, brands have to become incredibly agile, adaptable and relatable to capture the click.

Caveat: being ‘omnipresent’ is not being ‘everywhere.’ You still need a strategy and a deliberately chosen channel (oops – old habit!) to execute it. Mystique can become anyone at any time, but it’s only towards a specific purpose (for example, saving Magneto from self-destruction).

Change is the Only Constant (and that’s a good thing)

Amazon captured 5% of total U.S. retail volume and 44% of online retail in 2017, and survey shows nearly 70% of global consumers will be shopping on Amazon by 2022 (VML). While FMCG sales grew 6% faster than global economy in 2012, it has been steadily decelerating to the point of being 6% slower than global economy today (Kantar). While many predict the death of physical retail and fear the pace of disruption in the industry, it is important to remember that change has always been the only constant, and it is a good thing.

For one, the rise of e-commerce has lit a fire under traditional retail and forced brands to come up with new and innovative ways to engage and own their audiences. Burberry converted its store in central London into a live music venue one night in 2013 for fans of both fashion and music, and Samsung used the studio space of its flagship store in Chelsea, New York for a free barbeque cook-and-taste in 2017 to display the store’s technical rigor. Both events rekindled the brands’ connection with younger audiences and inspired new ways to think about retail store visits.

While disruption is hardly welcome at first, ultimately, it benefits both consumers and brands by making our life easier and our connections stronger (consider Mystique’s journey from being misunderstood to being celebrated as the mutant hero). As AI, block chain and mobile payments continue to disrupt traditional retail today, brands will be better off to embrace and participate in drafting the retail of tomorrow.




More On The Blog