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If your company was founded before 1995, “’Change Everything’ has got to be your mantra right now,” says retail strategist Lee Peterson.

“If they can do it, we all can do it. The way things are changing, ‘Once upon a time for retail’ might be 5 months ago,” he adds.

Peterson is EVP of Brand Strategy and Design at WD Partners where he leads a team of research, branding, and design professionals responsible for developing innovative ways to reach customers—both in-store and online. A popular retail commentator, he is frequently quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, and The New York Times.

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The Year that Changed Everything

Forget 1984. The tipping point for digital was 1995, says Peterson. “It was the year that changed everything. It was the beginning of the digital native.”

How so? From 1995 on, over 50% of the population has owned a personal computer.

Toy Story, the first big-budget digital (not animated) film, was released.

eBay, which changed the business model for consumer-to-consumer commerce through its unique version of an online swap meet, launched.

In 1995, San Francisco-based Craigslist pounded some nails in the coffin of newspaper classifieds by offering free online ads devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale items, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums.

Match.com began changing dating habits, bringing online dating out in the open and paving the way for Tinder, J-Date, Grindr and dozens of other targeted apps.

And, oh yes, Amazon.com began its adventure as a humble online bookseller, its biggest game-changing innovations years in the future.

Finally, Fast Company, printed its first issue – following the fortunes of these companies and thousands more, including the first big tech IPOs, many of which happened in, you guessed it, 1995.

“Think about it. Today, if you’re 25, you’ve never really known life without those companies,” Peterson says.

Amazon Amazon Amazon

Basically, Peterson says, the ubiquitous Amazon.com has revolutionized the way we shop. For decades, Americans had to visit brick & mortar stores to get the things we needed, from food to clothing to furniture.

“Now, Amazon pretty much rules the earth.” How so? The online retail megalith has earned over $75 billion each year from 2010 to 2015.

It’s so dominant, that it earned about 10 times what its next eight online competitors earned over the same periods—competitors like Target, Best Buy, Costco and Wal-Mart.

Amazon is so forward-thinking; they’ve reevaluated their approach to the bottom line. “They’re not necessarily looking at revenue. Amazon measures ROI on information because (over the long-term) information leads to sales,” Peterson says.

Amazon has created a perfectionist shopper. “Now, people don’t have to go to stores anymore,” he emphasizes. “We have to want to go to a store.”

And when many people do go to stores, they want the experience to be as seamless as possible. They don’t want to talk to salespeople or wait in lines.

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Fascinating Findings from 10,000+ Survey

WD conducted a five-year study interviewing over 10,000 consumers of all ages to learn their shopping habits, openness to innovation and more. Groups were labeled, not so much by age, but by whether they approached the world as a “digital native” or “digital immigrant.”

While certain “techier” current and future innovations (think handprint signatures) proved more popular with those who wallow in a digital world (usually younger, but not always), new approaches to service and product delivery proved popular with both audiences.

Immigrants vs. Natives

It’s not what you think. When WD Partners polled it's 10,000+, they found that digital immigrants and digital natives responded to new concepts with differing levels of enthusiasm. For retailers, the choice to try new things may depend on the digital comfort level of their shopping base (Wal-Mart vs. Urban Outfitters). They found:

  • Using Mobile Devices to Shop. Over 50% of digital natives do; less than 15% of immigrants do.
  • The Concept of Mobile Self-Checkout. 57% of digital natives like the idea, just 33% of immigrants do.
  • When Buying Online for Store Pickup…67% of natives want someone to stay in the parking lot while someone brings the purchases to their car; 49% of immigrants want this. Peterson’s takeaway: “Everyone should do this!”

Other findings—digital natives are ready for Radio-frequency identification (RFID) Checkout and are open to fingerprint-based checkout. They also hate digging through packed shelves and are “ready for the showroom concept of retail spaces right now.”

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Innovation: Fast & Furious

Retail isn’t alone. The world around us is innovating at an accelerated pace, Peterson says, citing a few examples from the book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” 

By 2025, we can expect to see much more of:

  • Frequent use of Implantable Mobile Devices in humans—used to track children, seniors with dementia, and others
  • Driverless cars
  • Clothing connected to the internet
  • Cities without traffic lights (especially in Europe)
  • Augmented reality business meetings (where Oculus glasses replace Skype to give members a sense that they’re in a room together), and
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) serving on corporate boards!

Peterson’s final takeaway about the present and future of brick & mortar retail.

Not only do shoppers hate dealing with salespeople.

“Customers hate customers. The most annoying thing a customer can face is…more customers.”

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Hannah Chenoweth

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Hannah Chenoweth is a writer for influence group. Passionate about collaborating with thought leaders in real estate, design, construction & facilities management.

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