Why the future of retail is not black and white

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And another thing. There are other important factors to consider when you look at the future of retail, particularly online retail. One is security, another is privacy and another is, well, shoppers.

We are becoming used to data breaches. Instead of panicking when we learn that Marriott’s entire booking system has been lifted wholesale and delivered to shady people in Russia (other skilful hacking nations are available) we simply roll our eyes and make ourselves believe it won’t affect us.

The trouble is that, at some point, it probably will, if it hasn’t already. At some we will have to take notice.

Amazon, for instance, may be ahead of the game when it comes to security (they certainly are when it comes to convenience and logistics) but that does not mean they are infallible. In fact, their market position will mean that they are a target not just for serious crooks eyeing up the millions of customer credit cards, buying patterns and addresses but also to those who simply want to take down the big boy to prove a point or simply because he can.

When that happens there must, surely, be a backlash against online retailing.

Indeed, a recent study shows that retailers generally are falling behind when it comes to security and that ‘card not present’ fraud will be a $130 billion problem over the next four years.

Combine that with the growing suspicion of what companies do with our data and the pressure against online retailers must get worse.

Combine those two with the trend against too much screen time and that pressure must push towards getting the kids out of the house and towards a Mall.

And while the physical retailers work out what to do about the online threat and begin to innovate and transform the retail experience into something compelling and cool (like a market), the struggle escalates.

It is not, of course, just a question of which ‘side’ wins because physical retailers will go online and online retailers will, to some extent, become physical.

It is also about why and how people go shopping.

If you know what you want, then the easiest method is to go to Amazon or whoever, find it, find the best price and click.

If you don’t know exactly what you want or you need to get out of the house or you want to meet a friend for a coffee and go shopping afterwards, that is what you will do and it is entirely different behavior.

In the same way that we get news online but settle down with the Sunday papers and a cup of coffee (the Bloody Mary option is available) we will shop two ways.

What we probably need is a better way of measuring whether retail is doing well or not so well and stop dividing it up between physical and online in such a black and white way.

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