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Prediction: pendulum to swing back from online to in-store buying

Posting in Technology

Maybe brick-and-mortar stores will be part of our future after all. An IT industry visionary predicts that within the then next five years, buying in stores will be a smarter, more engaging experience than e-commerce.   

 IBM has released its annual "5 in 5" predictions from some of its leading thinkers, and an interesting and counter-intuitive forecast pops out: that in-store purchasing will come back even stronger and surpass e-commerce. This flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom we've become accustomed to over the past decade, and even more astonishing is that it comes out of one of the world's leading tech companies.(Disclosure: IBM is the prime sponsor of this site.)

Online sales topped the $1 trillion mark worldwide last year. However, online stores are getting smarter about the experiences and interactive digital experiences they can offer onsite. And there's even an instant gratification element available there as well, says Sima Nadler, IBM research lead for retail. "Being local will become increasingly important as shoppers demand the instant gratification of their purchases. Two-day shipping will feel like snail mail when a local store can offer customers a variety of fast pick-up or delivery options, wherever they are."

But the pendulum swinging back to physical stores doesn't suggest a return to low-tech shopping by any means. If anything, technology is boosting the on-site shopping experience. As explained in a video accompanying Nadler's prediction:

"Advances in augmented reality, wearable computing, and location-based technologies will give shoppers richer in-store experiences. And as consumers share more personal information, they'll see retail stores transform into immersive shopping destinations personalized just for them. Buyers will tap cloud-based cognitive systems to get a clear understanding of their customers, and plan their store inventory more precisely."

Many retailers support a multi-channel shopping experience, with both a strong physical presence as well as online, and there is a great deal of overlap and interchange between the channels. A customer may likely do his or her research online for a product, then visit the store to more closely examine the actual item. Or, a customer may see an item in a store, and go online to shop for the best deals -- right there in the store. 

And, let's face it -- humans are social animals. Shopping and commerce has always been a big part of that social existence, going back to the marketplaces and agoras of olden days. Sitting in a room at home by oneself to do shopping may be convenient (especially this time of year), but there's always been a sizzle and spark to getting out and visiting stores.

— By on December 19, 2013, 8:32 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure