There are two ways that 2030 could play out for a retailer. One is, “We’re just going to keep iterating with all of this incredible new technology.” On that path, the retailer gets stuck on iterative investments and incremental designs that build on the past, which limits the possibilities. The other path is, “We’re going to innovate and reimagine what shopping should look like in 2030—in a way that the customer either already wants or doesn’t know yet that they want—and once they have it, they’ll feel like they can’t live without it.”

In my work, I focus on the latter. The problem, when we imagine the future of retail, is that we tend to think about it as retailers. But there are other possibilities. For example, we could look at the most innovative amusement parks and translate that guest experience to the inside of a store or across other channels. Think about all the artistry and science that go into virtual reality, augmented reality, video games, or theme parks like Disney World. There’s a lot of “Imagineering,” as Disney calls it, that has to take place to marry technology with the customer’s experience in special ways that a company can then own and make a part of its brand. What do consumers love about those experiences? What’s the wow factor and how can we re-create it in retail in ways that didn’t exist before? As developers, as retailers, we’re only limited by how much we allow ourselves to break away from the conventional definition of retail itself.

By 2030, 5G will have given way to 6G. We’ll have sensors, computer vision, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, immersive and spatial computing. How can these worlds play together in a way that is almost fantasy-like? Figuring that out takes imagination. It takes experience architecture—a new type of discipline and expertise. I wouldn’t be shocked if the best retailers in 2030 are employing game designers or spatial-computing designers.

In futuristic movies like Minority Report and Blade Runner, a character walks through retail settings and he’s greeted by name; there’s technology that knows who he is and tries to sell him things, and it’s very intrusive. That should give us cues from a design perspective: technology shouldn’t feel intrusive and suffocating. It should just be in the background. Those technological capabilities already exist today. Technically, a retailer could know me by name when I walk into a store. It can know what transactions I’ve made and it can look at other types of data points in real time to know a more inclusive me, a 360-degree me, beyond just what I’ve bought at that store. It can offer me new products and services based on that broader view of me.

Snippet from an article written for McKinsey by Brian Solis from Salesforce, March 2021