Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: Is Retail Technology Pushing the Limits?

As retailers add more technology to the shopping experience, it could bring a consumer’s privacy into question.

Steve Williamson of Transwestern

American consumers have thrown the purchasing process up into the air, leaving retailers and consumers still trying to find the sweet spots that work.

Traditional department stores are no longer trying to be traditional. Regional malls are turning to new concepts to stay relevant—new restaurants, high-tech entertainment concepts, etc. Trendy pop-up stores are a great way for start-up retailers to utilize brick-and-mortar locations to test the waters and refine their marketing strategies through point-of-sale intel.

But perhaps the biggest change taking over the retail sector is the constant evolution of technology. Retailers are continuously finding new ways to connect, analyze, and serve their customers.

For example, Amazon is experimenting with small format brick-and-mortar book stores that have NO employees. No one to greet you, no one to help you navigate the store and no one to ring up your items when you’ve finished shopping. Customers scan their Amazon Prime card when they walk in, pick out the books they want, and walk out. Technology follows them out of the store and they’re billed later.

I’m not sure I’m ready for retail to evolve so far that I’m electronically followed out the door.

Could Amazon’s no-employee store be another trade-off of technology versus privacy? The trade-off has already been happening. Major retailers have been experimenting with integrating technology into the in-store experience for some time.

Neiman Marcus is rumored to be testing a software in its dressing rooms where a customer can try on clothes in the dressing room and push a few buttons on the mirror to virtually change the size and/or color of the clothes, visualizing what other options might look like.

While it sounds cool, I wonder if it’s really a “private” dressing room anymore.

Right now, consumers—myself included—are trying to figure out where the future of retail is going. Do I want convenience, service, and entertainment, or a more traditional shopping experience? Am I comfortable with retailers using technology to gather data on me and my shopping habits?

The real question: How far can retail push technology before we feel our privacy is at stake?

Steve Williamson is a senior vice president at Transwestern.