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The New Network

Your customers are connected. Are you?

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As I was wrapping up VMSD’s January 2011 issue, Time magazine announced it had named Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year for 2010. Dubbed “The Connector,” Facebook’s founder is the second youngest individual ever to receive the honor, at age 26. He’s also a multibillionaire and already has a movie about his life. Those of us who get our daily fix of profile updates, family pics and friends’ rants about this, that and the other know how Zuckerberg’s social networking site has been an instrumental force in transforming how we communicate and stay connected.

“It’s social engineering, changing the way we relate to each other,” Time managing editor Richard Stengel said. (Zuckerberg beat out the Tea Party, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Afghanistan leader Hamid Karzai.)

It’s also just one of the technologies that’s changing the way we shop. A peek across the retail landscape finds in-store kiosks that allow you to order a shirt in a different color online and have it delivered for free while still standing in the department store. Eyeglasses and apparel retailers are experimenting with monitors that snap pictures of you modeling a new pair of shades or outfit so you can e-mail it to your friends and get their buy-in before you actually buy it. And an ever-increasing number of shopping apps allows consumers to price check an item right in your store to ensure they’re getting it for the best price out there. The common thread between all of these new and evolving technologies? They’re keeping retailers connected to shoppers.

In November, I sat on a panel discussion at the annual A.R.E. Convention where we discussed trends in retail design, including localization, smaller formats and technology. One audience member raised his hand to ask if we felt stores would even be around in five or 10 years. We all agreed, yes. But they’re going to look and act a lot differently.

Just like Facebook connects us to former classmates, busy friends or family members across the globe, stores in the future will serve as a point of connection for like-minded people to gather and discuss a common interest or product or participate in a group activity. Some retailers and brands are already moving in that forward-thinking direction. Others need to use the new year as an excuse to start thinking how they can build store concepts that foster connections to that networked world where customers are spending so much of their time.

In discussing his Time designation, Zuckerberg said in the next five years “most industries are going to be rethought in a way where social design and doing things with your friends is at the core of how these things work.”

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It’s our role as retailers, designers and suppliers to ensure the retail industry is at the forefront of that shift. Are you a connector, too?

 

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