The prototype for modern escalators began as “moving walks,” and originally debuted at the Chicago Exposition in 1893 and the Paris Exposition of 1900. Department stores were early adopters of the technology and in 1895, Harrod’s in London became the first to install one.
By 1920 there were over 350 installed in department stores and public transportation institutions.
The signs of changing times? Abandoned malls, closing book stores, groceries delivered straight to your door. The meteoric rise of e-commerce has shifted many of our retail experiences to the digital world. Also, with the surplus of big data available brands can easily ‘remember’ individual customers who visit their website, making internet shopping convenient, personalized, and irresistible.
Every time you pile a shopping cart high, thank Sylvan Goldman, an Oklahoma native who gave us a way to buy more than we can carry. After noticing that shoppers only bought as much as their small basket could hold, Sylvan created a larger folding basket on wheels. At first it didn’t take and he hired shoppers to actually walk around the store modeling his new invention. Soon enough, the idea was rolled out across the nation.
Using the magnetic signature of a building, a smartphone’s native compass sensors, and new software from companies like IndoorAtlas, shoppers can be steered to exactly what they’re looking for, completely eliminating the need for the “You are Here” maps in our malls. This might seem like something from Minority Report but current technology is already accurate within a meter.
Getting regular home deliveries of high-use products—soap, toilet paper, razors, and tampons—makes life so much easier. And receiving monthly packages of beauty supplies, comic books, or dog toys makes life more fun. So, it’s no surprise that subscription boxes have been growing in popularity since 2010, beginning with the launch of Birchbox. According to My Subscription Addiction, there are now over 900 subscription boxes to choose from, with more being added each day.
Can you imagine a store shelf that knows when an item is almost out-of-stock, is the wrong temperature for the food it’s storing, or has an interested customer physically nearby? These technologies are coming to the shelves of the future. Out-of-stock sensors, temperature-sensitive tags, and beacon-activated mobile advertising take shelving from storage to store employee.
Effortless retail got a major boost when messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger began teaming up with online retailers. Now innovative companies like Everlane allow customers to track orders, get live help, make changes, and have ongoing conversations with a brand using the same app they use to talk to friends and family.
Welcome to the age of the 24-hour consumer. Technology is making it easier to spend every second of free time shopping. With smart vending machines, holographic kiosks, and drone delivery becoming the norm, retail experiences can pop up anyplace.
The Warby Parker experience, where you can select 5 pairs of glasses online to receive by mail and try on at home, is the grandfather to what’s coming. Using technology like Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens, augmented reality and immersive, 3D environments may make future shopping both literally and virtually effortless. And while showrooming may remain a brick-and-mortar staple, display products could be replaced by sophisticated hologram versions.
What’s that buzzing? Just your friendly drone delivery service. Although the technology exists today, we probably won’t see skies full of Amazon boxes any time soon. Commercial drone delivery has not been approved for businesses by the Federal Aviation Administration...yet. Judging by a successful FAA test delivering medical supplies via drone in July of 2015, it may not be too far away.
It’s hard to believe, but women’s restrooms were missing from many department stores. If nature called, women had to go home for relief. Talk about cutting the shopping trip short. That all changed in the late 1800s and early 1900s when inventive retailers like Harry Selfridge in the U.K. created women’s lounges inside the store. Thankfully, the trend caught on.
Remember when you actually had to go to the grocery store, mall, or car dealership? Not anymore. InstaCart, Zulily, Edmunds.com, and a host of other consumer apps and websites ensure that you only need to go as far as your laptop or phone. And if scrolling through menus is still too much work, you can outsource the shopping altogether. Artificially intelligent personal shoppers like Mona will be happy to do your bidding.
Goodbye, cash. Goodbye, stack of credit cards. Thanks to PayPal, Apple Pay, and GoogleWallet, you can securely pay for almost anything using your smartphone. With all your financial information in the cloud, the payment process is more seamless than ever—the biggest downside might be the burden on your bank account.
Imagine having to ask a clerk for every item on your grocery list? Before 1916, self-service was not widely available in grocery stores—everything was behind a counter. Then Clarence Saunders, a Piggly Wiggly owner in Memphis, created a "cafeteria grocery" where shoppers could walk the aisles and choose the items they wanted.
In the late 1800s, shopkeepers realized that the longer shoppers lingered in stores, the more they were likely to spend. Hence the invention of products that improve the in-store experience and keep people engaged while shopping. Today we still use:
Effortless shopping has been the goal of retailers for centuries. Things we use everyday—the receipt (3000 BC), shopping carts (1937), and subscription boxes (2010)—are only a fraction of the ways retailers make it easier for customers to spend money. Learn more about retail inventions you already depend on and discover what's in store for the future of shopping