BOSTON (MainStreet) -- During Wal-Mart's (WMT) (Stock Quote: WMT) annual shareholder meeting this past summer, CEO Mike Duke stressed the challenges and opportunities presented by "the next-generation customer."
"They're connected to the world through smartphones and social media," he said. "They're in charge of when they shop and how they shop, and they know who has the lowest prices."
Given the pep rally nature of shareholder meetings, it should come as no surprise Duke trumpeted Wal-Mart's advantages in meeting the needs of these customers. Nevertheless, the landscape of "big box" stores and category-killing retailers is evolving constantly to meet the needs of a more demanding, tech-savvy customer base.
What will the future Wal-Mart and its big box peers look like amid the increasing demands of their customers? We took a look at the changes afoot, which range from the mundane to the futuristic.
Its a smaller world
The mantra of retailers such as Wal-Mart has traditionally been "Bigger is better." More space means more merchandise, one-stop shopping and the ability to offer up loss leaders in some product lines to ensure profitability for other merchandise. In terms of inventory and price, the bigger the store the more successful it was.
Now Wal-Mart is among the retailers starting to question the continued viability of shopping behemoths.
This has led to an ongoing push by bricks-and-mortar retailers to contract and downsize.
Even more e-commerce
A key to shrinking the size of its stores will be a blending of e-commerce with traditional store visits.
Wal-Mart recently announced the expansion of its "Pick Up Today" service, which offers an option for same-day delivery of items ordered online and retrieved at a physical location. That program was launched earlier this year with approximately 40,000 items at 3,600 stores.
Customer demands and a drive for cost savings have led retailers including Wal-Mart to get serious about "green" issues.
Futuristic movies may prove a prelude to more revolutionary changes already being considered by retailers.