What will the future of shopping look like?
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
People like to shop. Americans like to shop. American women in particular like to shop. According to futurist David Houle, in the past 40 years, shopping went from something one did when something was needed to a leisure activity in and of itself. With changes in economics and technology, what will shopping look like in the next 10 years?
In the 1960s, consumer spending represented 60 percent of the United States' gross domestic product. By 2007, it had grown to 72 percent. Much of this growth in spending—especially in the past 15 years—was fueled by the use of credit cards, which only entered wide use in the 1960s and 1970s, and access to home equity lines of credit.

In these past four decades, we have become a nation of shoppers. Shopping centers and mega-malls have changed the retail landscape of America. "Going to the mall" became an activity and a social event. You shop a little, stop at the food court, shop a little more, take in a movie and lug all the purchases to the SUV to take home.

Then came our reorganization recession to slam the door on this shopping activity. We took stock of all that we had purchased and found out we had too much stuff. Consumers have been so scarred by the Great Recession that indulgent impulse shopping won't return full force for years. We have too much debt, we have too much stuff and we realized we need to save more. All these trends have been manifested in recent economic measurements.

Retail sales have been down or flat over the past two years. The only areas that have shown growth have been the technology sector and online retailing. The technology sector has shown strong growth as we all clamor for ever cooler smart phones, app phones, portable game players, flat-screen televisions and tablet computers. Shiny new objects that expand our connectivity and social interaction seem positively irresistible. Online shopping has seen double-digit growth for the past 10 years. We have come to like the convenience of shopping at home; we like the fact that we can shop 24 hours a day from any place in the world and never leave the house.

So, where does this leave the future of shopping?
I think you will see three dominant shopping trends emerge in the next decade.

Discount Stores Will Continue to Thrive

Wal-Mart, Target and Costco have conditioned us to expect ever lower costs on everyday products. This current recession has only reinforced a desire to buy in bulk, seek the lowest price and feel good about it. Bargain shopping is here to stay.

Online Shopping Will Continue to Grow

While the year-to-year growth rates will slow, online retail sales will climb every year. Americans greatly value convenience, and online shopping is ultimate convenience. We use the Internet to compare products and read reviews, find who sells what we're looking for and search for the lowest prices. I know people who have developed an almost personal relationship with Amazon.com, ordering everything from books to appliances to disposable diapers, all with free shipping and an open return policy.

Offline Shopping Will Become All About the Experience

Social shopping habits—going to the mall to shop, stroll and see and be seen—has been ingrained in three generations of shoppers. Despite trends pointing away from shopping in person, the social element of shopping still must be satisfied. No matter how much we buy in bulk, get things at the cheapest price and browse efficiently online, that does not satisfy the "high-touch" need we have developed around the activity of shopping. Shopping malls will become much more social, interactive and experiential. Our purchases per mall visit may, in fact, decline, but we will still go to the mall because it provides an experience—a family outing, a chance to mingle with other people without really having to interact with them.

A glimpse of the future in the desert
Visitors to the aquarium at the Dubai Mall.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Last month, I was in Dubai to deliver a speech to executives in the shopping center and mall businesses in the Middle East. I toured a couple of the malls, and I was absolutely blown away by the extreme emphasis on experience that these malls provided. Of course, one of the reasons for this is that Dubai is a desert country and the mall is a great place to beat the heat. Average daytime temperatures in January are in the 70s, while from June to September they are over 100. The developers and operators of these malls have realized they can keep people in the mall for hours—if not a full day—by providing a variety of experiences.

One mall has an actual ski slope for skiing and snowboarding. The Dubai Mall, in which I spent the better part of an afternoon, has one of the world's largest indoor aquariums (seen in this page's photo). You can walk underneath it and see sharks suspended just a few feet overhead. And there's even more! An entire section is devoted to an interactive game park for kids. At a miniature soccer field, anyone can take three shots at a goal and win a prize. I was thrilled to walk into a Japanese book store with 300,000 titles, making it two to three times the size of the average mega-bookstore in the United States. There were also mall standbys—a multiplex theater and a food court. Only, the food court was one of the most luxurious, varied and high-quality food courts I have ever seen. There was a magnificent four-story fountain with sculptured swan divers in suspended animation. Finally, there was the entrance to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Malls like this point the way to the interactive, entertaining, highly social shopping centers of tomorrow. Once we feel good about how cheap we bought our household goods, after we have shopped the globe online for convenient deals, we will meet our friends to share, interact and enjoy the ever more stimulating environment of the experiential shopping malls of tomorrow.

How do you see the future of shopping? What do you think will be the shopping trends for the next 10 years?

David Houle is an award-winning futurist and strategist who has launched successful brands and is an in-demand speaker about the future. He writes the popular futurist blog Evolution Shift and lives his life slightly ahead of the curve.

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