Insights into the future of retail

16th June 2016

As regular readers will know, we’ve written a few times about the future of retail. Many high street staples were forced to close due to a lack of insight or flexibility in responding to change – both in the retail market and in society as a whole. This week we were really intrigued to read a post about what one man expects to happen to society in the near future – and what we can learn from the past.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

After attending a Singularity University event in Berlin, Udo Gollub described what he learned about our changing culture and how this will affect us in the future. We’ve picked through it to find the parts which are relevant to retail – how retailers have failed and where we might be headed in the future. If high street brands like Woolworths, BHS and Blockbuster had paid a little more attention in class then perhaps they’d still be around – if perhaps in a slightly different format:

“In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years.”

Huge changes for industry

Gollub suggests that this kind of sea change will now occur across a broad range of industries. These include artificial intelligence, healthcare, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and the job market. He describes it as “the 4th Industrial Revolution” or the “Exponential Age.” He suggests that software will disrupt most traditional industries during the next 5-10 years:

“Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.”

3D printing is going to have a big impact on retail – for example, consumers will be able to scan their feet and print out bespoke shoes at home:

“The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports.

“At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. In China, they already 3D printed a complete 6-storey office building. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed.”

Obsolete business models

According to Gollub, many jobs and business models will become obsolete. If you are considering entering a particular profession, then you should ask yourself: “in the future, do you think we will have that?”

If the answer is yes, then you should work out how you can make it happen sooner. If it doesn’t work with your smartphone, then you should simply forget it:

“Any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed in to failure in the 21st century.”

He also predicts a big shake up in our currency. He says that Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and could even become the default reserve currency.

Gollub’s predictions are certainly food for thought and are being widely shared on social media. Companies like Kodak had years to work out how they could adapt to the digital age, but they didn’t act until it was too late. By asking what is going to be relevant and sustainable and developing flexible and responsive business models, future retailers should be able to stay on top of their game. We predict that despite these seismic and exponential changes, people will always enjoy a retail experience and bricks and mortar stores will never be fully replaced by online retail.  – but should work in synergy with it, to offer personalised and convenient consumer experiences. You can read Gollub’s post in full on Facebook.