Star Wars has recently caught people’s imagination in retail but the film franchise that holds greater resonance is surely Back to the Future.

October 21, 2015 was the date on which Marty McFly and Dr Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown arrived in the future in the trilogy’s second instalment.

The film made its debut in 1989 and the passing of its most famous date last October prompted reflection on what had altered in 25 years.

For retail the changes were seismic. In 1989, Walmart was the world’s third largest retailer with $25.8bn (£17.31bn) in sales. Amazon didn’t exist. Neither did Alibaba. On November 11, 2015, Alibaba posted sales of $14.32bn (£9.61bn) in just one day – Singles’ Day in China.

Given these significant transformations, what will 2016 bring for retail?

Rubbish into fuel

The COP21 Paris climate conference provided impetus for retailers to bring environmental issues into focus as their customers demand transparency from businesses and value for their values.

The reality in 2016 will be new stores that aim to be self-sufficient in energy, more electric delivery vehicles and the roll-out of charging points in car parks.

Robotic retail

The movies might suggest plastic characters taking orders, but the reality is more profound in the shape of robotic process automation in the supply chain and in-store systems that can provide digitally-led customer experiences.

Machine-to-machine interfaces have the ability to predict and match a consumer’s needs to real-time availability, location, price and delivery.

The customer experience is improved and increasingly personal, and the retailer can improve responsiveness while reducing costs and inefficiency.

Wearable tech

Assuming retailers have not replaced their staff with robots, the simplest way to connect them with the cloud and the rest of the sales force will be a wearable device. This will simplify regular retail procedures and improve customer experience.

Customer experience

“We can’t advertise our way out of a problem we behaved our way into,” said Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis about the challenges the global retailer faces.

“Proactive retailers are looking at their organisational behaviour to ensure they stay connected with their customers”

Si Hathaway, Cheil

Proactive retailers are looking at their organisational behaviour to ensure they stay connected with their customers.

UK retailer Game has taken an innovative approach to customer experience, not only building an award-winning app that brings together all its store tools and loyalty scheme into a very convenient mobile solution for the customer, but also empowering its managers to create a community of gamers around each store.

Everywhere, instant and personal

People do not care about online, bricks and mortar or m-commerce. They want to move seamlessly between environments, platforms and devices to fulfil their shopping missions.

They don’t care if something is advertising or design, shopper-marketing or promotion, social or customer relationship marketing, they simply want the best experience.

Back to the Future of retail will require brands and retailers to inspire the three types of human behaviour that drive purchase: search, shop and share.

But, in tackling the most modern shopping behaviour, they must not lose the shopkeeping skills of the past.

Know your customer and give them what they want, when they want it. Make it easy and convenient to buy and deliver value for their values.

Now what would Marty McFly make of all that?

  • Si Hathaway is president and global head of retail experience at Cheil