Make no mistake, bricks-and-mortar retail is in bad shape.
In the past few weeks alone, value-focused department store operator Gordmans (GMAN) ; appliances, electronics and furniture retailer HHgregg (HGG) and RadioShack successor General Wireless Operations all filed for bankruptcy.
Major mall-based department store operators including Macy's (M - Get Report) and J.C. Penney (JCP - Get Report) - plus about a dozen more retailers - plan to close hundreds of locations this year due to declining foot traffic and heightened e-commerce competition from dominating players like Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) .
Fast forward to 2030, and the futurists at consumer financial services firm Synchrony Financial imagine a shopping experience that "looks dramatically different than it does today." In a recent report, they acknowledge that whole bricks and mortar retail has a place in the future, but companies must start to evolve today if they want to survive.
Here are some of the firm's top thoughts on where retail is headed.
Editors' pick: Originally published March 21.
"Technology will bring on a new era of DIY shopping," Synchrony said in its report. Its futurists envision a clothing store with interactive dressing room mirrors vs. taking advice from sales associates. Need another size? Tell the mirror and a sales associate will bring it, hopefully reducing the time spent interacting with retail employees. In the millennial age of being consumed by one's personal Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone, few people want to spend the time chatting with a sales associate.
"Time and convenience...technology is really the driver that accelerates that for the consumer," Synchrony's Whit Goodrich said in the report.
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"Retailers will know shoppers well, from RFID in cell phones or biometrics like fingerprint scanners when they enter the store," Synchrony said. Sounds creepy, right?
Well, these futurists think "digital assistants" driven by an app will help give shoppers the "honest opinions" they're looking for, rather than getting "biased retail associate opinions."
Bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to exist, just on a smaller scale. And Synchrony said in its report that stores should be driven by entertainment such as a bar, or set up a display and show people how a belt is made.
"People are social by nature and will be drawn to gathering places to share ideas and be entertained," the futurists said.
Surprisingly, given the number of retail bankruptcy filings, Synchrony said it expects specialty retail stores to be a "go-to" in 2030.
"Shoppers are reaching a tipping point around American consumption," Synchrony said. "Feelings of angst about acquiring too much 'stuff' is driving a shift toward purchasing experiences rather than things. Along with concern for the environment, consumers feel that retail must streamline and consolidate in the future."
Verizon (VZ - Get Report) isn't the only company that can deliver on demand. Synchrony said retail can, too, with driverless cars and drones programmed to return that ugly sweater grandma bought you and deliver your online purchase from a nearby warehouse in the same day as the transaction was made.
Plus, futurists said consumers may be able to shop in hologram replicas of their favorite stores right from their living rooms.