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How Millennials and the “Sharing Economy” is Transforming Retail

The future of retail is set to change in a big way, lead by millennials and older shoppers ready to embrace new technologies and methods of purchase.

In a new study commissioned by multi-national shopping center group Westfield Company, more than 13,000 shoppers across Westfield’s shopping centers in the U.S. and UK were asked to identify trends that would shape future success for retailers.

The biggest trend? Retail rental. Consumers are becoming increasingly used to the idea of a “sharing economy” – tapping into Uber for rides, or Airbnb for places to stay. Likewise, people are now interested in retailers adopting this model. Fifteen percent of Americans said they were interested in renting from their favorite stores, while over a third of Millennials (35% of 25-34 year-olds) said they were interested in retail rentals. Exercise equipment topped the list of what people wanted to rent (17%), followed by consumer electronics (15%), furniture (11%) and cars (10%).

Consumers polled also wanted retail spaces to take on new roles. Shoppers are increasingly seeing retail spaces not only as places to purchase, but as classrooms where they can learn new skills and build social networks. Nearly a third of shoppers (32%) are interested in attending a lifestyle lesson at their favorite store. Shoppers in the U.S. want health or fitness sessions most (29%), followed by inspiring learning sessions such as creative cookery (27%), expert sessions (20%) and then clubs (17%).

But it’s not just the stores themselves that will be changing, consumers want retailers to embrace new technologies like virtual reality to aid in purchases, and rewards programs that recognize “good choices”. Forty-two percent of people in the U.S. would like to use new technologies, such as virtual reality headsets, to experience how products will look in their home. A third said they would be interested in using virtual assistance to see how clothes would look on them. More than a fifth (21%) of U.S. consumers said they’d like to be rewarded for good choices – including recycling (23%), exercising (23%), spending time with family (20%) eating healthier (16%), and even charity volunteering (11%).

“This is arguably the most exciting time in retailing history,” said Myf Ryan, Chief Marketing Officer, Westfield UK and Europe. “Fashion stores of tomorrow might look radically different – bringing shoppers through the doors to attend a vintage clothing club, rewarding them financially for recycling their old clothes, helping them pick a new outfit with virtual reality and then loaning it to them for a party at the weekend.”

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