Will in-person shopping continue with the rise of technology?

I remember going to the mall was an event when I was growing up; whether I was with my mom and sister or had just been dropped off with a group of friends, it was always a fun way to spend an afternoon. With the decline of brick-and-mortar stores and the rise of online shopping, these memories make me feel old before I’ve even graduated from college.

It’s undeniable that the ability to compare prices without having to drive to multiple stores and being able to order almost anything on a phone app from your couch makes shoppers’ lives significantly easier. However this makes me wonder, will I be the last generation to experience Saturday shopping trips to the mall?

While I still enjoy shopping at physical stores, I have to admit the user experience of shopping online has benefits for both the customer and the company itself. And all of these perks have been emphasized by COVID-19. 

For starters, online shopping is considerably more convenient. There’s no driving or parking involved and the only walking you’ll have to do is if you forgot to grab your credit card before settling into your couch. 

While online, shoppers use multiple tabs on their computers to take advantage of stores that are selling similar products and compare prices and styles. This task would be significantly more difficult to do if the consumer had to walk throughout the mall remembering the prices of similar items they were interested in and which stores had each item. 

With the increasing number of people choosing to shop online, and COVID-19 forcing many stores to shut their doors for weeks, it’s not a secret that brick-and-mortar stores are struggling. However there are some benefits to online shopping for companies as well. 

One of these major benefits is that e-commerce provides retailers with significantly more data about a consumer than in-store shopping would. 

When a consumer is walking around a store they are likely to pick up items they like and put them back if they decide against the item, and there is no way for the company to know they were ever interested in that item. With the stores’ online platform, they are able to see what users bought, when they added something to their bag but didn’t buy it and when they left the site without buying anything. 

The e-commerce sites can then use this information to target advertisements directly to specific consumers instead of just general demographics. For example if you add items to your shopping bag and decide against purchasing them, there’s a good chance that you’ll see those same items in advertisements if the site you were shopping on uses cookies.

So if it is more convenient for both the consumer and the retail company why not officially close malls? It’s likely because malls and in-person shopping have their benefits too, like the social aspect of going shopping with people or being able to have your clothes as soon as you purchase them.

Maybe the future of shopping is not the closure of malls but instead, the unification of the sites and the stores. 

In 2011 the Harvard Business Review predicted that consumers may be able to start their shopping online by adding things they were interested in to their cart, and then go into the store to try on the clothes. In this prediction, the consumer would also be able to scan the item and check to see if other stores have it at a lower price or if there are coupons available. 

The review predicted this technology would be seen in most stores by 2016, so the timeline may have been a bit off. But there are companies that are bringing futuristic technology into some of their stores. Some of these technologies that are improving users’ experiences in stores include mirrors in the beauty store Sephora that are programmed with AI to recommend products to consumers. 

Instead of e-commerce and shopping malls being enemies, maybe the combination of the two is actually the future of user experience in shopping.