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The Future of Stores

As designers we’re frequently asked to create a “store of the future” for our clients.

But is there a future for stores?

2020 used to be a horizon for retailers. But that’s here- with a vengeance. Few could have predicted what is happening now. What’s going to happen in twenty years?

Twenty years ago there was no social media and no smartphones to view it on. People paid cash for stuff or signed credit card slips. The first Apple store was just about to open. No one had heard of selfies, fairtrade or froyo.

So where’s retail going and what’s going to happen to stores?

The future of stores


It’s clear that online purchasing is here to stay- but it will become so automatic you won’t realise you’re doing it. Take groceries. You will never run out of toilet paper, dog food or milk. These things will just turn up in your cupboard and fridge. You’ll pay for them subconsciously, knowing that someone has found the best deal for you. The cleverest thing about Uber is that they have removed the unpleasantness of actually paying for something when you get it. You say goodbye and close the car door. It’s almost as if it’s free. Your basic shopping will follow the same path.

So where does that leave supermarkets? Well, retail archaeologists will be studying their fossilised skeletons along with those of retail banks and news agencies.

In 2040, the world’s resources will have to feed 8.8 billion. Mass food producers will be more accountable for how it is produced, and the supply chain will be much more transparent. Customers’ consciences will combine with legislation to ensure minimum waste. The daily fresh shopping trip will be the norm, with smaller outlets catering for smaller, more regular baskets.

But the change is happening not so much for practical reasons but because it’s simply more engaging and fun. Hence the rising popularity of shops like ALDI is Australia. Customers have little trust in the big supermarkets, yet ALDI has fans. This type of convenient, smaller scale, affordable and fun grocer will evolve to take the place of conventional supermarkets.


Driverless technology will be the biggest change agent for retail. Service stations and carwash café sites will be redeveloped for residential with retail for daily needs on the ground floor. Convenience stores will morph into mini markets stocked with ranges of fresh and prepared food carefully tailored to the local micro population.

Pets will be increasingly regarded as family members. As such, specialty pet stores will be absorbed into the human equivalent. Look out for premium pet food at the deli, a pet health section at the pharmacy and pet furniture concepts at home maker centres. And of course veterinarian services at your local health clinic.

As private health insurance companies continue to reward the fit and healthy with discounts, GPs will realise that they are a part of a health maintenance service industry and will follow cosmetic dentists in creating appealing retail environments in shopping centres. They will concentrate on selling aids to wellness as opposed to sickness.

An increased awareness of looking good and feeling good will link all categories at the mall, from food retailers to fashion to pharmacies. And the interesting thing is that the boundaries will start to blur.


Unencumbered by owning a car, you will be walking like a VIP through the front door of a shopping centre rather than making your way up through a murky netherworld of car parks. But why?

The “store” as we know it will disappear. Rows of gondolas will be as obsolete as fax machines are now. As everything becomes commoditised and available through the ether, retail environments will rely less on stock and more on affecting how we feel. Liquor stores will make us think about celebrating life with our friends but the actual product will be quietly delivered to our fridge from a distribution centre once we’ve selected it. Food stores will make us feel like we’re doing our best for our families through the quality and freshness of what we select and the environment we select it from. A trip to a fashion store will make you focus on the future that you’ll be wearing the garments in and how you’ll feel about being dressed for the occasion. The whole sales and service environment will be geared towards this.

The difference between now and then is that in the future we’ll be demonstrating this to the customer and evoking those emotions, not just telling them about it or showing them the goods. People will visit shopping malls because they enjoy it, not because they want something.


The retail designer of the future will be taking a completely different brief. Design will focus on how the customer should feel when they encounter our brand. There is no brand loyalty- customers purchase to satisfy their own aspirations, not ours. Store environments won’t be designed around what we want them to feel about us. They will be designed around what they feel about themselves and their loved ones.

Technology will have its place but it will be useful and relevant. There may not even be any stock for sale in store. It may just be a very cool space that evokes a certain emotion. The whole product-price-purchase experience will take place on line using whatever personal device people will be using in 2035.

It will be less about convergence than separation. Stores will influence customers to buy, but they will actually purchase at a different time and place. So the role of the physical store designer will continue to evolve to be more technological but the essential new skill required will be psychology.


Make no mistake; value will matter more than ever. But as people have more and more choice, they turn to people they can trust. That’s not the brands -it’s the customers’ friends. And by friends I mean both physical and online networks, even avatars in virtual worlds. What that means is that brands and their stores have to be truly trustworthy- we and our friends and our networks will keep them honest.

Most important is the concept of reality. In an increasingly crowded, stressful and challenging world, people will reach out for what’s real- real relationships, real experiences, real food, real emotions.

The successful retailers will be the ones who can keep it real.


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