As a term, ‘store of the future’ has become redundant and may even be something of a distraction from the main event for retailers.

When was the last time you visited a ‘store of the future’? There are times when it seems hard to avoid wandering into one of these places. And the odd thing is that, by definition, it can’t be as it is billed because this is the here and now.

What retailers really mean when they use the term is a store that is different from what they have done elsewhere. They mean a store where they have put a few elements in place that they may, or may not, use at some indeterminate point in the future.

As a term, therefore, ‘store of the future’ is distinctly unhelpful and, given the manner in which it is used, something of a misnomer.

That said, what do you actually call a store that is, by any other name, a trial? At this point, perhaps the old ‘concept store’ chestnut should make an appearance, because this, largely, is what a future store actually is.

Technical gimmicks

All of which notwithstanding, it was a little surprising when visiting a ‘Lidl of the Future’ in Tooting last week to find that this retailer’s version of the store to come didn’t rely, as so many do, on technology for its shtick. 

Technology of the kind that is too expensive to deploy widely, and which all too often represents a one-off gratification for the shopper, has been installed in stores that purport to provide us with a vision of what tomorrow will look like.

“Shoppers are in a store to look at the merchandise. In-store experience, on this reckoning, does not equate to screens, screens and more screens”

It won’t because, for the most part, shoppers are in a store to look at the merchandise and technology is little substitute for some well thought-through visual merchandising. In-store experience, on this reckoning, does not equate to screens, screens and more screens, in spite of what Coop Italia did with its store at the Expo in Milan last year (there were screens and little else).

So is there any point in looking for a store that will offer a pointer towards how things will be 10 years from now? Possibly not. Stores of the future act as a distraction from the main event, which should be ensuring that the stores a retailer has in its estate are up to scratch. A store of the future will be good for generating a few headlines, but it will probably be a one-day wonder.