I have a theory. It seems to me that we are all guilty or at least on the precipice of a technological overdose. My generation (‘Baby Boomers”) are now hooked online in terms of shopping, news and sports gathering, browsing Facebook to catch up with our long lost high school classmates or our kids and even grandkids, some moderate gaming and certainly a ton of e-mail. On our smartphones, we are consumed with the vibrations that signal an incoming message and can’t wait to read it and decide whether to respond within nanoseconds or let the sender sweat it out for, oh say, 3 minutes.

The next generations (Generations X and Y) are even more savvy and addicted to their laptops and smartphones. Whether it’s playing games, late night Skype calls, or texting/BBM-ing, Tweeting and connecting on LinkedIn, the younger professional set is doing business a lot differently than we have done in the past.

Which takes me to the latest generation, our kids. They only know from computers, laptops, Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, playing Angry Birds all night, iPhone, Blackberry, Android…I often wonder what I did with the time they spend connected and wired to their communities both local and international.

There is little doubt that technological advances have changed our lives forever. I am not going to debate the relative merits of this change but with all the hype surrounding e-commerce (that has now settled in and is comping normally on an annual basis) and now m-commerce (whether it is actually purchasing from a mobile device or just price comparing) it is a wonder that anyone leaves their domiciles. Work can certainly be done remotely, meetings can be held via Skype or sites such as GoToMeeting.com, even schooling can be done over the internet.

So it had me thinking…Why, exactly would anyone invest in physical retail environments if, on the surface, the power of online and mobile commerce is so strong? Why would any consumer need to waste time with parking, line-ups, crowds, hot or cold temperatures, foreign smells, possible germs, food court food and, best of all, rude sales staff…?

When J. Walter Thompson, one of the world’s largest advertising and marketing companies comes out with the “Retail as the Third Space” notion as one of the top 10 trends for 2011, I applauded their insight. I believe, like them, that people will start craving human contact. As humans, we need the face to face interactions more so now than ever before. We have segregated ourselves even further with all this personal technology and I believe that at some point soon, we will see a boomerang effect that will send people to shopping malls with even more vigour because of the solitude nature of our current everyday use of technology. There is a built in mechanism (called instinct or innate behaviour) that will trigger this need for additional human interaction.

I am bullish on in-person customer experiences. Retailers cannot stick their heads in the sand and disregard the internet or mobile phenomena nor can they neglect adding technology and conveniences to their in-store experience. However, I believe we all still need the human touch. We need to get off our couches, desk chairs and beds and go physically shopping.

The “Third Space” concept was first claimed by Starbucks, which made sense at that time. People hung around the comfy chairs and socialized. These days, most of the people I see at Starbucks are on their laptops, iPads or Blackberrys and not talking to anyone. I am not sure what the point is to grant everyone free wireless connections when the goal is to promote human interaction. However, the physical retail environment, if done properly, can promote that human interaction while at the same time promote brand loyalty like never before…

Because we will start craving being with each other more than ever….That sounds pretty cool to me…

TheRetailTherapist 🙂