Shopping will no longer require multiple trips to the store - it is already a reality in some major metropolises around the world. Almost anything imaginable can be delivered to your doorstep via mobile apps and e-commerce sites, often within hours. Small retail businesses are also changing rapidly.
Due to the many challenges of the outbreak, brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to adapt quickly. Physical retailers had previously relied on foot traffic and in-store customers. Suddenly they needed to understand how to connect even remotely with consumers who were at home or remotely.
Now, as parts of the world recover from the pandemic (or adjust to a less catastrophic "new normal"), self-driving cars are on the way. And they could allow companies, even in the retail sector (the small neighborhood shops) to build even more sustainable, efficient and lasting businesses, giving them new ways to connect with customers.
The retail trade looking forward to the future
Retailers are figuring out how to invest to upgrade stores. All energy is concentrated on distribution. The target? Bring the goods closer to the customer so that he can collect them or have them delivered as conveniently as possible.
We are seeing these changes happening right now. Fast food restaurants are testing drive-through kiosks, and entire storefronts are opening to allow circulation if the weather is nice. Customers and delivery personnel are picking up orders on the sidewalk or through specially installed takeaway windows.
Customers who still want to touch the items can still, albeit less, and are encouraged to search for additional stock on the store's website. “The idea of super-dense interior spaces is no longer attractive,” he says Zachary Colbert, professor of architecture at Carleton University.
How will these autonomous vehicle-driven trends make it easier for customers to have new and more affordable retail experiences? Self-driving companies are already testing pilot deliveries in several major American cities. Whether it's a small independent shop filling orders to be sent independently, or a customer who requires a self-driving vehicle to take them shopping downtown without worrying about parking, stores will benefit. On both fronts: both e-commerce and in-store purchases.
The architecture of the retail trade is also in complete evolution
To take full advantage of these changes, retailers will also need to consider how to redesign the physical layout of their stores inside and out, from the back closet to the checkout, showroom and even sidewalk space. Will they still need a lot of parking if most of the goods are distributed as deliveries, express collections or ferried by autonomous vehicles?
One thing is certain: the commercial real estate market is also set to undergo major transformations.
Even before the pandemic, marketers were pressured to translate in-store brand experiences to the world of e-commerce, from a better online user experience to streamlined processes for pickup and delivery. This trend has only accelerated over the past year and a half. The overall floor area of retail outlets will shrink. Large retailers are changing their surface and many of them are downsizing.
How will the store spaces change?
According to Dr. Gurram Gopal, professor of industrial engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, there will be major conversions. Many shops closed retail stores and vacant retail spaces will be converted into "mini distribution centers" for large and small businesses.
If you order something through your favorite e-commerce site today, it will most likely be transported from a huge warehouse from the outskirts of the city. But, Gopal wonders, what if you could get that delivery even faster from a smaller distribution center closer to home?
Such efficiency would not only help the consumer, but also the environment by reducing the energy expended to transport goods over a greater distance.
This idea can be further reinforced by autonomous driving, allowing even the on-board delivery staff to focus on sorting and preparing goods for delivery, rather than driving large vans, always in a hurry singing and carrying the cross.
Let's take it one step further: What if that smaller neighborhood distribution center a couple of blocks from our house also had products from the neighborhood's small businesses in inventory? A Mini The Amazon local. What if it pre-sells its limited inventory? Everything from gourmet baked goods to artisanal clothing could be sold this way. Ordering would take place via a smartphone app, so the space previously allocated to cash registers would become a packing and collection area. “The layout changes to allow people to easily pick up and exit,” says Gopal. In this way, the neighborhood shop regains a role. The community and the shops support each other. The shop becomes the link. It will be a symbiosis.
Before the pandemic, store halls occupied up to 80% of a store: 20% was the warehouse, or the back room. In the post-pandemic, this 80-20 ratio in the retail trade could change, even reverse.
If or when it does, we will be able to rely on autonomous vehicles that will help retailers of all sizes carry goods from shop windows and fulfillment centers to their customers.