THE BLOG

Living in the Future of Retail: Why the Jetsons Were right

06/08/2014 11:05 BST | Updated 30/09/2014 10:59 BST

It's been over 50 years since The Jetsons first began to show the world a futuristic vision of the mid-21st century; from flying cars to jetpacks and friendly maid-bots, the future isn't quite here yet but from a shopping perspective, The Jetsons was more than prophetic in the way it featured video screens and the "televiewer" - what we know as the Internet.

If one thing has transformed retail, it's online shopping, no matter which screen it's delivered on - smartphone, tablet, desktop, or TV. What The Jetsons didn't get right however, was the sheer pace of change.

The Jestsons was set nearly 50 years ahead but it's pleasing to realize that we're already light-years beyond them in many respects. In retail in particular, brands have already realised that clicks and mortar (a combination of the store and online) is the future and technology is an invaluable asset.

Smartphones and tablets, for example, are now seen as vital shopping aides. In today's retail world, not only can they be used as 'virtual wallets', replacing the need for multiple credit cards and cash, but they can also help customers find the best buys, the right sizes and connect with brands via social media. So, what's next?

It's clear to me that the activation of new technologies in stores we all know and love will only increase in the next decade, particularly as transparent screens and holograms steadily decline in price and increase in size, scalability and power. It might not be long until we can try on clothes in the same way that Jane Jetson did, via a perfect hologram, projected straight onto us...

In January 2014, researchers at MIT came up with new transparent screens that will allow for a wider viewing angle, simplicity of manufacture, and potentially lower costs. Such displays will almost certainly be used in the next 5-10 years in place of standard store windows, leading to a revolution in the architecture of the high streets and shopping malls. Customers will be able to see clearly the merchandise on display inside, but the dynamic, engaging windows will encourage shoppers to step inside the brand showroom. Even when stores are closed, customers walking past will be able to tap on the screens to connect with the brand as they show off upcoming launches, new sales items and catwalk footage. They could also be used to provide information on dressing-room mirrors without obstructing the customer's reflection, further allowing space for retailers to promote their heritage, collections and brand personality.

If you're thinking that transparent screens are all very well but holograms are unlikely to leave the realms of The Jetsons, you'd be wrong. It might be harder to picture but holograms and augmented reality will soon be part of everyday stores. Technological innovation and falling costs mean holograms are likely become just another facet of the retail experience in the next decade - allowing stores to personalise the shopping experience for every customer who comes through the door. It's entirely possible that when we go into the supermarket in 2015, all the gluten-free and nut-free products, for example, will be highlighted via our smart-glasses, so you know exactly what to buy without worrying about reading all the ingredients.

Physical shelf space will also become less problematic for shops as this technology and the increasing alignment between online and offline channels will allow stores to digitally display the entire range, new products or sale items without the need for shelves, racks or models. Holograms that feature eye-catching displays of the new season's fashions, push sale items or automatically draw your attention to accessories that would go well with the dress you just bought are all on the way, and at least a few hundred years ahead of schedule!

Over the next decade, we can expect to see the store become an embodiment of the brand, and an increasingly important destination for consumers, where they can do much more than browse and transact - they can experience the best the brand has to offer. Even today, companies that have always existed purely online are beginning to realise how valuable a physical store is - Microsoft has spent the past five years opening 63 branches across the US and Canada and rumours have abounded around Amazon since 2012...

So, roll on 2025 - I, for one, can't wait to go shopping, Jane Jetson-style!