Nola Donato has seen the future of retail, and it is in a Magic Mirror.
The Intel scientist has designed a high-tech mirror that shows how clothes look on a consumer who simply stands in front of an LCD monitor. Parametric technology simulates body type and how fabrics fit — based on weight, height and measurements.
Think of it as a digital fitting room. The concept is three to five years from fruition but could open the door for Intel in the retail market.
The convergence of smartphone technology, social-media data and futuristic technology such as 3-D printers is changing the face of retail in a way that experts across the industry say will upend the bricks-and-mortar model in a matter of a few years.
"The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years," says Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick, a location-based shopping app available at Macy's, Target and other top retailers.
Within 10 years, retail as we know it will be unrecognizable, says Kevin Sterneckert, a Gartner analyst who follows retail technology. Big-box stores such as Office Depot, Old Navy and Best Buy will shrink to become test centers for online purchases. Retail stores will be there for a "touch and feel" experience only, with no actual sales. Stores won't stock any merchandise; it'll be shipped to you. This will help them stay competitive with online-only retailers, Sterneckert says.
Branding strategist Adam Hanft says this all might sound futuristic, but much of it is rooted in reality. He says satellite stores will open in apartment buildings and office centers. FedEx and UPS will delve deeper into refrigerated home delivery. Google trucks will deliver local services. Clothing — even pharmaceuticals — will be produced in the home via affordable 3-D printers.
"Every waking moment is a shopping moment," says Steve Yankovich, head of eBay's mobile business, which expects to handle $10 billion in transactions this year. "Anytime, anywhere."
Game-shifting tech — such as smartphones, location-based services, augmented reality and big data, which makes sense of all the data on mobile devices and social networks — will most assuredly upend several multibillion-dollar retail markets, forcing retailers to adapt or die, say venture capitalists and analysts.
Eventually, 3-D printers will let consumers produce their own towels, utensils and clothes. While in their infancy, the devices have been used to print hearing aids, iPad cases and model rockets, says Andy Filo, an expert on 3-D printers. The technology is several years away, however, from being widely available and affordable, he says.
And almost all of it will be paid with … your phone.
"Cash will still exist, but no one will use it," says Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack, a self-service, social-media platform that lets users create custom Facebook tabs. "Carrier payments and the swipe of a smartphone will do the trick."
Technology advances won't just change the physical appearance of stores for consumers, but should transform the retail workforce into more of a customer-friendly field, too. Retailers who don't adapt quickly and successfully risk losing out, Sterneckert says.