Retail stores aiming to get more fun or die

A customer tries out the technology at Seattle

A customer tries out the technology at Seattle clothier Hointer that gathers items the customer scans and sends them to a dressing room. Photo Credit: AP

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One of America's favorite pastimes is changing rapidly.

When it comes to shopping, more Americans are skipping the stores and pulling out their smartphones and tablets. Still, there's more on the horizon for shopping than just pointing-and-clicking.

No one thinks physical stores are going away permanently. But because of the frenetic pace of advances in technology and online shopping, the stores that remain will likely offer amenities and services that are more about experiences and less about selling a product. Think: Apple Inc.'s stores.

Among the things industry watchers are envisioning are holograms in dressing rooms that will allow shoppers to try on clothes without getting undressed. Their homes will be equipped with smart technology that will order light bulbs before they go dark. And they'll be able to print out a full version of coffee cups and other products using 3-D technology in stores.

"Physical shopping will become a lot more fun because it's going to have to be," retail futurist Doug Stephens says.

Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says stores of the future will offer more services, such as day care, veterinary services and beauty services. Services that connect online and offline shopping will increase, with more drive-thru pickup and order-online, pick-up-in-store services. Checkout also will be self-service or with cashiers using computer tablets.

Some stores are taking self-service further: A store in Seattle called Hointer displays clothing not in piles or on racks but as one piece hanging at a time, like a gallery.

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Shoppers just touch their smartphones to a coded tag on the item and then select a color and size on their phone. Technology in the store keeps track of the items, and by the time a shopper is ready to try them on, they're already at the dressing room.

If the shopper doesn't like an item, he tosses it down a chute, which automatically removes the item from the shopper's online shopping cart. The shopper keeps the items that he or she wants, which are purchased automatically when leaving the store, no checkout involved.

Nadia Shouraboura, Hointer's CEO, says once shoppers get used to the process, they're hooked. "They end up buying a lot more, they're laughing and playing with it," she says.

Other stores, including British retailer Tesco and drugstore-chain Duane Reade, are testing beacons, Bluetooth-enabled devices that communicate directly with your smartphone to offer discounts, direct you to a desired product in a store or enable you to pay remotely.

For example, you can walk into a drugstore where you normally buy face cream. The beacon would recognize your smartphone, connect it with past purchasing history and send you a text or email with a coupon for the cream.

"The more we know about customers . . . you can use promotions on not a macro level but a micro level," says Kasey Lobaugh, chief retail innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting.

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