Giving the opening speech at the forum of experts held on Monday 18 January was Maria Errobidarte, Senior Consultant at WGSN Mindset, who started her speech from the factors that have guided recent changes, underlining how the pandemic has given a clear boost to the growth of e-commerce and on-demand home shopping, which has become the new normality, while changing the purchasing habits and expectations of consumers towards brands and products and accelerating processes already underway. In fact, there has been an increased sensitivity towards local purchases, ethical themes, and social justice, as well as towards sustainability, while the ability to create entertainment, a friendly climate, and a sense of community has been rewarded.

Thus, we find 4 main trends guiding the future of retail. The first regards the repurposing of physical retail spaces, which will gradually adapt themselves to e-commerce, also in terms of product stock; at the same time, broadcast centres become the new ‘concierge’ and the channel of communication between the brand and consumer, as well as the connection between digital and physical also for the presentation of a product; there are then micro-formats like pop-up stores, with the space divided into smaller themed areas. The rethinking of the space accordingly passes through a versatile and ‘adaptable’ design, made up by modular formats directly connected with e-commerce, as with live showrooms, but also following the concept of entertainment (or rather entertain-Me), with continuous dialogue between digital and physical and vice versa, to then end with smaller formats and digitalisation, which combine digital and physical in a unique purchasing experience.

The second trend that emerged after the outbreak of the pandemic as a driver of change is the new design concept that guarantees social distancing and a protected and safe situation, with greater attention towards hygiene, like for example a simple layout with the presence of personal protective elements or antibacterial surfaces, so that the consumer’s engagement with the brand is reinforced. There is then the division of spaces to guarantee safer use, including special layouts, separate entrances and exits, one-way aisles, along with direct, yet safe, interaction with sales personnel. At the same time, increasingly important are the new ways of accessing and purchasing in a physical store, like entry reservations, pick-ups and curbside deliveries, which increasingly connect offline with online, with the possibility of entertaining consumers while they’re waiting in line and effectively communicating the brand identity.

The third aspect guiding change in retail is technology, which must move towards increased autonomy for the consumer and greater automation, with the use for example of dispensers, cashless payments, and virtual fittings.

Finally, as underlined by Maria Errobidarte, we are moving towards the optimisation of e-commerce with the aim of earning consumer loyalty and reselling with a view to the circular economy. At the same time, there is innovation in deliveries and the evolution of last mile logistics in the spirit of sustainability, all the way up to the use of drones and automatic delivery systems, for easy and safe online purchases. There is then a ‘frictionless and social experience’, a point of contact between the physical and digital dimension, with a central role played by new social channels like Tik Tok, above all among youths.

Daniel Agis
, CEO of Agis Consulting, affirms that we are witnessing a drive towards the omnichannel, with the direct connection of all the sales channels, both physical and digital. Today, the consumer in fact moves from one channel to the other easily and naturally, in a single purchasing experience without interruption on all platforms, whether purchasing online from a mobile device, laptop, or in a physical store. According to Agis, only the omnichannel can represent the future of retail with a view to growth and innovation.In fact, once the eventual obstacles connected to logistics have been overcome, there are five main factors at play in favour of the omnichannel: first, is the possibility of expanding also on an international level for creative brands even of smaller dimensions, based not only on the product but also on the ability to create a unique purchasing experience; the second advantage regards the possibility of providing strong support to internationalisation and profitability, through the optimisation of stock; to then end with the exponential growth of the shopping experience up to 50%.

The pandemic has accelerated the development of specific scenarios like the reduced number of physical stores, of both fast fashion chains and single brand stores in general, following the strategic reorganisation of distribution, which has gone hand-in-hand with the growth of online sales. In the future, when restrictions and limitations have been lifted, it will once again be necessary to rebalance the scale between online and offline, since the online sales that doubled in 2020 and the growth of fast fashion do not necessarily mean a reinforcement of the omnichannel. At the same time, it will be necessary to analyse the effects of a possible concentration of the market in the hands of just a few phygital giants. The physical space will likewise be reinterpreted in the sign of smaller dimensions and multifunctionality, in both a conceptual and commercial sense.

The physical store will undergo a hybridization of its space with the aim of simultaneously engaging different stakeholders who share not only a product, but also an experience, and will increasingly become a place for socialisation, for passing the time and interaction, in direct connection with the activity of marketing, addressing not just consumers, but individuals in all their complexity. Finally, in terms of the impact that the use of technology will have on the omnichannel and the way in which the collections are designed, Agis underlined how technology will increasingly be able to make an enormous quantity of data and detailed information coming from different integrated sales channel, including the physical store, available to creative talents; this data will allow them to create increasingly customised collections, while at the same time increasing the reactivity of businesses to new market trends, since it will take less time to pass from the design of the collections to their arrival in the stores.

The role of the physical store will be different in the future compared to what it was like before the pandemic, as underlined by Karin Zaghi, Associate Professor of Practice of Channel and Retail at SDA Bocconi, because it will go from being a functional space geared towards the satisfaction of a need, to being an experiential space, which places customers and their needs at the centre of its interests. Accordingly, there will be a shift from a product culture to an experiential culture. In this sense, three key factors for a unique and satisfying purchasing experience include the ability to incite emotion, functionality, and accessibility.

The physical store must engage with the customer – offering emotions, interaction, experiences, and values, all elements that the customer cannot find in digital shopping. In this new scenario, becoming increasingly important is the recognisability of the store, its uniqueness, personality, and ability to offer additional experiences, while abandoning the idea of having a chain of stores that are all exactly the same.

Visual merchandising itself undergoes an evolution: while previously it essentially focused on the optimisation of selling the product, today, it is fundamental to the brand’s marketing, launching a new product while also conveying the price range of the brand itself, as well as in allowing the visitor to discover new collaborations, services, and initiatives. It is likewise fundamental in providing stimuli and information to the consumer in a simple and fast way, communicating where it is possible to find what they are seeking, transmitting the values of the brand and its positioning, and creating satisfaction in the purchasing experience. It is not the customer that must adapt to the store, but the store that must shape itself to the needs of the customer.

Technology plays a primary role in helping brands along this pathway, even if it’s important to not fall prey to the error of going towards an excessive technophilia and offering an unnecessary amount of technology. For this reason, it’s important to carefully observe the behaviour of consumers in stores, understand how they ‘use’ the store, how they would like to experience the space, and how they use new technologies inside the store.

The speech of Maria Errobidarte then returned to the need to transform the physical store into a place capable of telling stories and communicating brand identity, of providing messages and allowing customers to have an experience, while focusing for example on the possibility of touching the products, but also connecting the store with the territory in which it is located and with the people who live there, as an active presence that allows you to ‘experience first-hand’ the know-how of a company.

According to Gianpaolo Delli Ponti, Senior Advisor Next Generation Customer Care at Accenture, even for retail, the guiding concept today is ‘adapting’. We are accordingly speaking of ‘adaptive retail’, which adapts to the new needs of consumers resulting from the pandemic: from ongoing changes in policy that see, for example, greater sensitivity towards the theme of social justice, to the new ways of working dominated by smart working, to expectations in terms of safety and service when purchasing, including for example pick-up delivery. 

In this new context, the leading future bets of retail regard the omnichannel and a proposal that is genuinely oriented towards the needs of the customer, but also a new future store concept oriented towards a unique purchasing experience without limits between online and offline, as well as towards key concepts like engagement and digitalisation; other important bets for the future concern service costs, which must increasingly be seen in a holistic key, supply chains, and also marketing and merchandising, which must make the most of the data available and the potential of technology in improving the assortment of products and winning over customer loyalty.

In particular, the impact of Covid-19 accelerated the need to reorient five aspects of retail: the Offering, establishing the right mix of products and services through a digital lens capable of interpreting the needs of consumers more effectively and quickly; Experience, focusing on the experiences of emerging channels to support the categories in which demand is increasing; Engagement, with a view to empathy, safety, and social responsibility; and Enablement, distributing the command centre with the aim of replying more effectively to the needs of the consumer. It is also necessary to make a break with traditional customer service, which from reactive becomes proactive, pre-empting the needs and desires of the consumer to resolve eventual problems ahead of time, while moving towards greater automation and personalisation.

Andrey Golub
, General Manager of ICOL Group, underlines how the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation already underway, virtually transporting us to 2025, with a special emphasis on 5 areas in particular: digital design prototyping, digital retail, digital manufacturing, big data/ AI, and digital supply B2B. E-commerce in the fashion industry has grown by 40%, but the pandemic has also changed the minds of consumers and their purchasing habits, rewarding local products, brands that know how to conquer customer loyalty, and those that are sustainable and ethical. Communicating all this is accordingly important for a brand, but it is fundamental ‘how’ it is communicated, because if from one end it’s true that the digital channel is the preferred channel for communication, it is also true that online an enormous amount of information is available, and often the consumer is more willing to trust in-store communication.

Digitalisation has increasingly imposed itself with force also inside companies, favouring smaller and more specialised collections, which are customised, conceived in a digital format, and proposed in virtual showrooms. Today, it is possible to find mature technologies capable of genuinely personalising the product in a fast and easy way. In fact, artificial intelligence has changed the way fashion is done, much more than augmented reality has. This last one will allow for a genuine ‘embrace’ between physical and digital, transforming stores into places where it is possible to obtain more information, enjoy a more engaging shopping experience, while at the same time keeping fewer products in the store that are better aimed at customer needs.

If, however, augmented reality can be defined as a technological tool, artificial intelligence is a bona fide super technology, which will help to create more intelligent products.
Today, in fact, we can speak of Personal individual recommendation, based not only on similar products that similar buyers have bought; Personalization, more customized; Data driven design, meaning not only creativity updated with digital instruments, but creativity guided by precise consumer data; Visual search, with a consumer who, for example, will provide the photo of a product of interest to him in the system, and then ask for one similar to be found, but maybe in different colours, etc….

Last, but not least, Giuseppe Angiolini, owner of the Sugar stores in Arezzo, clearly spoke on how it’s possible to make an attentive and carefully studied selection of products ‘unearthed’ from various parts of the world available to your clientele, while focusing on a distinctive and qualitative offering, rather than on a trend that quickly changes, with perfection integration between online and offline.

Agis Consulting

Daniel Agis, “brand-building expert,” has been carrying out a successful business for the past 25 years as project advisor in the areas of retail, international distribution and communication of both physical and online formats for well-known groups in the fashion sector. He is consultant to trade associations such as ATP (Portugal) and is involved in the preparation of National Strategic Plans as well as carrying out studies on macro trends. He is the author and co-author of various books whilst continuing to work as researcher and teacher.  In 2012, Agis published RETAIL 3.0, predicting the omni-channel scene, something in which, today, he is a confirmed expert.

Owner Sugar store

Giuseppe Angiolini is an artist, a talent scout, but, above all, a trend hunter. He is owner of the Sugar shops in Arezzo. He is the Honorary Chairman of the Italian Chamber of Fashion Buyers, with responsibility for marketing and communication and is also a Director of the ‘Pitti Image Committee’ and the ‘Guido d’Arezzo’ Cultural Foundation. He carries out an intensive consultancy business on an international level for a number of fashion brands.

Senior Advisor Next Generation Customer Care

Gianpaolo Delli Ponti, Executive with over 20 years of experience in management and Customer Service strategy redesign, gained first with Vodafone Italy and then in the Vodafone Group, is currently Senior Advisor for Accenture, where he manages Digital Transformation projects in Europe. Through his passion and curiosity for innovation and technology, Delli Ponti supports companies in their necessary transformation paths.

General Manager
ICOL Group

Andrey Golub, deepTech & FashionTech Entrepreneur for more than 15 years, is focused and passionate about Digital Twins, hybrid AI, Data Driven Design and Hyper – Automation. Co-founder in 2015 of ELSE Corp., a virtual retail and 3D commerce company, since 2020 he has been General Manager for Italy and Head of AI, M&S, R&D of ICOL Group – Smart Robo Factories and Digital Ecosystems.

Associate Professor of Practice of Channel and Retail
SDA Bocconi

Karin Zaghi, Associate Professor of Practice of Channel and Retail della SDA Bocconi School of Management e Professore di Marketing presso l’Università Bocconi. Presso SDA Bocconi, è coordinatrice di tre programmi Executive. Svolge attività di ricerca, formazione e consulenza sui temi di visual merchandising, shopping esperienziale, store management, trade marketing e category management.

Daniel Agis
Karin Zaghi
Gianpaolo Delli Ponti
Andrey Golub
Giuseppe Angiolini