The future of retail looks a lot more social

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DALLAS – Every year, retail conference attendees are treated to theories about the future of retail, and the future as envisioned today looks to be a lot more social in a way that goes beyond existing social media networks, according to PSFK Labs, which presented its vision of the future of retail at the National Retail Federation's Digital Summit Tuesday.

Scott Lachut and Piers Fawkes of PSFK shared 10 ways in which retail is changing, and all have digital touchpoints and revolve around making connections: connections between a retailer or brand and its customers, and connections between brands that form meaningful partnerships. 

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"We are moving away from websites and portal and destination points," said Fawkes. "Retail is taking place in social media or in a personal experience at home with things like Alexa." 

Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant that helps Prime members search for items and information, or buy products. The technology is being extended from the Amazon Echo Bluetooth speaker to other branded products. 

"It's a disintermediated retail experience," said Lachut. "No one goes to the front page of the newspaper anymore, they just get their news from various feeds and sources." 

Partnerships play a key role in this new paradigm, such as Instacart's pairing up with Allrecipes to let shoppers add all ingredients in a chosen recipe to their shopping list with one swipe, and then have it delivered within hours. 

Pairing up with complementary partners will let retailers add value and reach to loyalty programs, as well as creating something entirely new. 

Amazon's partnership with HGTV and the Food Network lets shoppers buy items directly from streaming content through Amazon listings and fulfillment. 

Lowe's is producing short videos that can be viewed in 360 degrees that appeal particularly to younger shoppers and teach some basic home improvement skills. 

Bjorn Borg branded activewear has partnered with Sprinter to create a mobile matchmaking service that pairs like-minded fitness enthusiasts. "It's basically Tinder for workout buddies," Lachut said.

These social services add value and make sense for users and brands. It's a different way of thinking about social that goes beyond Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.