What does smarter living mean for our town centres?

Our Marketing Manager, Amy Barker, looks at the future of retail and how the integration of smart technologies will change the way we shop.

A hundred years ago you could walk into a local corner shop and expect a personalised shopping experience. The shopkeeper would greet you by name and knew your shopping list by heart. They would diligently fill up your bag with your favourites and recommend new items that might be of interest.  The weekly shop was a chance to catch up on the local gossip and was one of life’s more pleasurable tasks.

Fast forward 30 years to the 1950s and the rapid transition to the self-service supermarket is largely complete. Through the improvement of transport, communication and other technological developments, lives have sped up 10-fold and shopping is about convenience; a necessary task that retailers seek to make as easy and as quick as possible.

Today, we’ve almost come full circle. Retailers are focused on providing us with personalised experiences from the comfort of our own homes. Previous purchases are remembered, and systems are so intelligent it’s almost like having a personal shopper advising and recommending products. Convenience has been taken to whole new level, leaving our traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers and local councils with the challenge of enticing people in for other reasons than their weekly shop.

So what does this mean for the future of our town centres? Will they continue to shrink in size until it’s nothing but coffee shops and hairdressers? Will independent retailers all but vanish because everything can be done from the comfort of your own home?

If history is anything to go by the answer is a resounding no. Technology will never overtake the need to socialise. It will never remove the need for experiencing the tangible. Instead, as smart technology infiltrates our everyday lives, we are seeing a return to an enhanced mix of leisure and shopping.

Amazon recently revealed plans for a grocery shop without a checkout process. Customers will instead pay for the goods they have selected via an app. Using technology that is found in self-driving cars, the customer’s Amazon account will be charged once they leave the shop. This is the future. Where an online and virtual shopping experience meets a traditional and physical one.

But it won’t just stop there, because when smart technology really takes hold we will be looking at more than just a smart shopping experience, we will be benefiting from smart supply chains too.

Amazon is just experimenting with its own supply chain and ‘shop window’. But we can expect to see the integration of internet shopping with bricks and mortar extending across entire town infrastructures. Already retailers have digital inventory lists. So imagine the consolidation of this information from multiple retailers into one mobile app allowing you to search for an item, find out who is selling it and then pop into town confident you know exactly where it is. Maybe the app can also tell you where the nearest available parking space is and recommend a 2-for-1 offer at a local restaurant.

Town centres must continue to evolve into enjoyable and inspirational places to socialise and shop. Confident in the fact that the heart of our towns and cities will not only survive in a more connected world, but will ultimately thrive.

Further good reading: Harvard Business Review – How technology is transforming retail >


Amy Barker – Marketing Manager @ urbancontrol

Before joining urbancontrol, Amy spent 15 years in consumer marketing working with some of the biggest retail brands in the UK, including several years at retail technology innovator, Ocado.