There’s no denying that if the barista at your local coffee shop can remember your order, it makes you feel special.
The truth is, we aren’t that far off having this personalised experience when it comes to shopping. Imagine the year is 2050 and upon entering your favourite store, your retina or fingerprint is scanned. Instead of trawling through the sales and aimlessly browsing, it’s refreshingly calm and collections are organised according to personal taste.
Just like the coffee order, the store knows what you really want before you’ve even asked for it. By scanning in, the store knows your size, that the feel of velvet makes your skin crawl and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do yellow.
The above might sound a little far-fetched right now, but it’s not unrealistic. Consumers are favouring experience over service, with customers seeking stores that go that extra mile or a service that’s specifically tailored to them. Flannels is one such example - a chain of luxury boutiques showing aggressive growth with 45 shops across the country and a goal of having 100 in the next few years. Its secret? High levels of customer service where the sales assistants and the in-store stylists know the specific likes and dislikes of its shoppers.
Nearly 3,000 shops shut on UK high streets in the first half of this year, so it’s no surprise that it's a challenging time. More customers are gravitating towards online shopping, as they benefit from the way in which technology helps us shop in terms of ease and accessibility.
In Mayfair, one of London's luxury shopping districts, the streets are watching. GPS data from smartphones uses the location tracking features embedded in countless apps to track when they enter a store and how long they spend there, explains the Business of Fashion. It's this technology that helps stores of the future understand their customer, something others just can't keep up with.
One in 12 UK stores have closed over the past five years according to an in-depth study by the Guardian. Bricks-and-mortar shops seem to be buckling every week - Marks and Spencer and Debenhams have both announced closures, along with Miss Selfridge which recently shuttered its flagship London store. Topshop has closed all of its US stores locations and narrowly avoided entering administration in June.
The affordable fashion favourites are trying to keep up with tech-savvy online retailers such as ASOS (who teamed up with Sims to create digital clothing), with fast-fashion favourite Zara using Augmented Reality in their store to have model holograms showcasing new pieces.
Consumers now spend one in every five pounds online, according to the BBC. If businesses are seeing 20 per cent fewer sales on the shop floor, as well as their fixed costs rising, then profit margins are squeezed, which presents a struggle for the high street.
It's the same in the luxury fashion world. Burberry launched a feature on its app whereby the user can digitally re-decorate their surroundings with Burberry-inspired drawings.
Balmain even bought out virtual reality headsets in their Milan shop and now use virtual reality models. This isn't anything new - we're seeing more virtual reality bloggers taking over Instagram and becoming ever present in the fashion industry.
Matthew Drinkwater, head of innovation at the London College of Fashion, explains how there really is no choice when it comes to embracing new technology in shopping.
"Too many stores have lost relevance because of this and I think the pace has changed, it’s just so fast and they have no other choice but to get on board," he says.
A number of stores are trying to keep up with the ever-changing online world. Browns East is flipping regular shopping on its head by combining fashion, art and technology to create the store if the future.
Its in-store cafe greets shoppers as they enter, which makes you feel like you've stepped into someone's kitchen rather than a department store. Browns East is more focused on experience, rather than shopping, so they regularly host supper clubs and intimate events. There’s no chaos, no overloading rails or piles of jumbled unwanted items. Clothes and products are hung and displayed throughout like the pieces of art they really are.
Mindfulness takes priority. The store provides an escape from the busy city through its virtual reality meditation room, where you can transport yourself to a place of tranquility. It puts a whole new meaning on retail therapy.
The store has a virtual reality room for mediation, something that could become more common in our shopping experiences
Technology has even improved their personal shopping service. A magic mirror, which resembles a similar concept to the wardrobe in Clueless, recommends new styles and then requests them from stylists to bring them to your personal booth.
Not only does Browns East look good on Instagram with its candy-floss pink changing rooms and exposed brick walls, it shows what the future of shopping could look like.
"Everyone is very aware of how the statistics have to change, how pollutive the industry is and how much waste is involved," Drinkwater explains. "The adoption of emerging technology is going to help change that."
Local artists work is displayed throughout the store
"Whether it’s materials integrating digital design and starting to print prototypes in 3D and stop wasting, all of these areas could be applied right now to make a difference.” He points out how we could start to digitally make our own clothes. “As you start to see more augmented advancements drift towards the supply chain, it could be possible for customers to create custom-designed bespoke products."
It's hard to imagine shopping without physically touching and seeing the clothes. However, a few decades ago online clothes shopping would have seemed alien, yet now it's part of our everyday.
"At some point this [technology] will drift into consumer hardware and it will be possible for us to create digital clothing, so you could be downloading content to augment what you are wearing today," says Drinkwater.
"From the virtual side with a mobile, you will be able to on a simple level, almost like a snapchat filter. You’ll be able to do that to your entire body in the next year or so."
It might seem a bit scary, but it would definitely make deciding what to wear in the mornings a lot easier.
From Harper's Bazaar U.K.