Understanding how customers behave today is vital for retailers

Understanding how they will behave in the future is invaluable. Retailers are bombarded with predictions about how people will shop in the future, and if you believe the technology vendors, you might think everyone will soon be shopping in virtual reality.

Today we present a reality check. Our focus group of 12 15- to 23-year-olds wasn’t a scientific one, and while we aimed to take a cross section of people from different backgrounds, there was a geographic bias towards the Southeast.

But some clear and surprising trends emerged.

These are young adults who are digital natives and of course they shop online. But the same things that frustrate adult shoppers - channels that aren’t connected, poor service and personal data concerns - annoy them too.

To assume all teenagers want to shop via Facebook, or all 22-year-olds are driven solely by price would be wrong. Their shopping habits may have evolved, but like their parents they are individuals with their own expectations.

The good news though, is that tomorrow’s shoppers like shops and going out to shop - for fashion at least. They want good service and inviting physical stores more than they want Facebook ones. Times may be tough, but the future’s still bright for good stores in good locations.

Those of us lucky enough to grow up with university grants and plentiful graduate jobs were much luckier than today’s youngsters, who find it hard to find work and struggle to pay their way through education.

For the past six years some of retail’s biggest names have been doing their bit to help with the Fashion Retail Academy.

Born out of the determination of retail leaders led by Sir Philip Green, the academy now has over 500 students, and 85 retailers taking its students on placements.

It is a shining example of how business and education can develop the skills that will equip people to compete in today’s job market. This week Arcadia, M&S, Next and Tesco announced funding of £80,000 for bursaries to help students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

It’s a bold vision. But the retail backers’ willingness to support the Academy - which could include growing it outside London - needs to be matched in government. Public funds are of course tight. But investment in educating the retailers of tomorrow will pay back in spades.