We first started discussing this topic when I posed the question, “Will there still be RVs after we shift over to driverless technologies?”

The answer came quickly, “Sure, why not?”

But as we removed the driver from the equation it opened the door to a vast array of new types of businesses that separate themselves from a permanent location.

The number one challenge of traditional retail has always been driving customers to the store. As we move into a highly mobile marketplace, businesses can drive to where the customers already are.

Retail is undergoing a major transition. With reports that 3,500 stores will be closing this year in the U.S. alone, and some speculating the real number may indeed be three times higher, seasoned entrepreneurs are beginning to sniff around the edges to find emerging opportunities.

Today’s storefronts are a throwback to yesteryear. Commercial building owned by wealthy landlords, highly regulated by cities with signage, zoning, and code level restrictions, requiring years of prep work to construct and a similar timeframe to modify or change anything on the property.

Because of this, landlords have been in a unique position. With commercial properties relatively scarce, and good buildings in high traffic locations even scarcer, most landlords prefer to hold out for Fortune 500 retailers to sign a 15-20 year lease that requires a team of lawyers to review before anything gets signed.

The commercial real estate system has evolved into a super complicated, top-heavy industry governed by national brands and global suppliers. As a result, most little-guy merchants don’t stand a chance.

At the same time, the buying public is a mercurial bunch. People love to shop at places that are new and different. They love to be surprised by their experience, and they are willing to pay for those surprises.

The mobile food truck industry has paved the way for a much larger industry.

Gone are the days where stores could simply warehouse products for shoppers to buy. Retailers need to provide customers with a feeling of excitement, exclusivity, and a tell-your-friends remarkable experience.

Traditional shopping centers have become stagnant. Sure, some of the displays change along with the merchandise, and occasionally a store is replaced by another store, but the pace of life is much faster than the glacial speed that transforms the fashion racks at Macy’s.

When it comes to retail, we don’t remember an evolution, we only remember a revolution.

NOTE: What you’ll see below are images of existing mobile businesses. Once driverless technology kicks in, these mobile businesses will take on some radically different designs.

Mall of the future – as mobile businesses set up, every day is a new experience

1.) Mobile Mall Shops

The idea of mobile mall shops started with rural communities. In most small towns the customer base is too low to warrant a full-time presence and permanent location. But a one-day-a-week storefront in five or six communities might be a perfect arrangement.

For this reason, it’s not a stretch to envision a new form of shopping center that caters to mobile businesses. With a stationary common area at its core, the mobile mall will be a central gathering place where a variety of businesses can “plug-in” and set up shop.

RVs, trucks, vans, and other large vehicles can be converted into traveling dental offices, tax preparation centers, chiropractic clinics, and retail storefronts. As they pull into place, merchandise and service areas will expand into the common area creating an “open bazarr” feel for the shoppers.

Most of the traveling storefronts will be one or two person businesses, nomadically traveling from city to city on their daily business adventure. Others will work a regular circuit, showing up on the same day each week, building a loyal customer base.

2.) Mobile Clothing Stores

After stepping into a full body scanner to get exact measurements, customers will select the fashion, style, pattern, and color of their garments and watch the manufacturing process as they wait. Even though 3D printers can print the clothing, a number of finishing processes will require additional tools. Clothing manufacturing processes will include:

  • Body scanners
  • 3D printers
  • Laser cutters
  • Fabric embossers
  • Robo stampers and imprinters
  • Sensor mount and test systems
  • Textile laminators
  • Automated button installers

3.) Mobile Laundromats

This type of business can be used as both a laundry service for travelers and a promotional tool for companies demoing new laundry products.

4.) Mobile Shoe Shops

Similar to a mobile clothing store, future shoe stores will begin with a complete foot scan coupled with a pressure point analysis. Since each person’s walking/running gate is different, the creation of hyper-individualize footwear is a complicated process involving:

  • Biomechanical simulators
  • Heat, moisture, stress sensor insertion tools
  • Auto-pore vent systems
  • Stitch, laminate, adhesion seam bonders
  • Treadmill testers
  • Foot & ankle scanners
  • Stress point analyzers
  • 3D shoe & sole printers

5.) Mobile Bike Shops

Bicycles are popular all over the world and it’s quite amazing how a mobile operation can open up so many possible revenue streams.

  • New and used bike sales
  • Bicycle supplies and accessories
  • Fix-a-flat service
  • Bike tune-ups and repair
  • Custom guided bike tours
  • Bike races and competitions
  • Rental bikes and scooters
  • Bicycle trainers, therapy, and coaches

6.) Mobile Brewery – Bar 

No need to go out to the local liquor store when you can summon an entire brewery whenever and wherever you want. The local watering hole just got a lot more neighborly.

  • Mobile brewery
  • Mobile winery
  • Mobile distillery
  • Spontaneous street parties
  • Taster cars to promote new items
  • The ultimate tailgate party
  • Party anywhere bar-car
  • Neighborhood socials

7.) Mobile Vending Machine Stores

Wherever there’s a crowd there are wants, needs, and desires, and mobile vending machine services can be there to help.

8.) Mobile Hobby Shop – Makerspaces

As every DIYer knows, good hobby shops are filled with experiences-waiting-to-happen. These experiences can be formed around kits, plans, pieces-waiting-to-be-assembled, raw materials, and all the tools necessary to trigger a fertile imagination. Think of it like a bookmobile only these shops are designed to bring rapid prototyping to school kids.

9.) Mobile Drink Shops

When it comes to consumables, drinks are an easy sell and these storefronts typically develop a higher frequency of visitation than any other type of product.

  • Perfect water
  • Energy drinks, health drinks, and mood drinks
  • Coffee, lattes, and espressos
  • Tea, tonic, pekoe
  • Juice, nectar
  • Smoothies, coolers,
  • Malts and sodas
  • Elixirs, potions, and tinctures

10.) Mobile Construction Services

Most things we own will need fixing, repair, or improvement at one time or another. Mobile businesses like this will soon become a common sight.

  • IoT and smart home device installation
  • Filter cleaning and replacement
  • Mudjacking
  • Sealing and waterproofing services
  • Termite inspection and repair
  • Gutter installation
  • Window covering installation and repair
  • Mobile carpet, tile, and flooring shop

11.) Mobile Grocery Store – Fruit Stands

Think of this as tiny convenience stores or fruit stands that can pop up anywhere. Niche products and specialty foods for the farmer’s market mindset.

12.) Mobile News Stations

Future news services will deploy a vast array of tools and technologies for adding dimensionality to a story. With all the problems surrounding fake news, having remote journalists positioned in a mobile command center, will give them the ability to add multiple facets of detail to every story. Some of the new tools at their disposal will be:

  • Eye-in-the-sky surveillance drones
  • Remote interview drones (with video screen showing the person asking questions)
  • 360-degree VR camera drones
  • 3D charticle creation instruments
  • Search engines for the physical world
  • Full sensory recording tools (sights, sounds, smells, mood, texture, weather conditions, presence of animals/insects, environmental conditions, etc.)
  • Multidimensional editing tools
  • Full spectral analysis tools (i.e. able to change visual filters for looking an accident/crime scene to geolocate blood spatters, heat signatures, presence of chemical agents, etc.)

13.) Mobile Hotel Rooms

Every big-time convention that rolls into town will soon be able to accommodate far more people when additional hotel rooms can be summoned as easily as the guests who will be using them.

FEMA will also like the idea of self-driving homes as a way to provide instant housing whenever a disaster occurs.

14.) Mobile Drone Command Centers

It won’t take long for people managing complex operations to realize that if one drone is effective, a dozen or two can produce far better coverage.

Managing a fleet of commercial drones will be far different than working with today’s one-off hobbyist quadcopters. Fleets will only come into play once automated systems enable less-skilled operators to manage their own equipment.

Fleet operators will find themselves needing a command center with skilled personnel such as pilots, logisticians, and data analyzers, but piloting the drones themselves will be automated to the point of needing little supervision.

Within 10 years there will be fleets of drones used to manage:

  • Police departments
  • Fire departments
  • News organizations
  • Sports teams
  • Stadiums
  • Forestry departments
  • National parks
  • Power plants
  • Ski resorts
  • College campuses
  • Airports
  • Large farms
  • Construction companies
  • Shipping docks
  • Theme parks
  • Prisons
  • Military installations

15.) Mobile Professional Service Offices

Every service we use on a regular basis will soon have a mobile version visiting our community.

  • Barbershops and beauty salons
  • Chiropractors
  • Accountants and tax preparation specialists
  • Dentists
  • Massage therapists and acupuncturists
  • Lawyers
  • Realtors
  • Insurance agents

16.) Mobile Veterinarians – Pet Shops

For many people, pets have become an integral part of their family, and pet services have become a routine part of modern living.

  • Vet services
  • Mobile kennels
  • Dog, cat, pet grooming
  • Wash, bath, and styling services
  • Spay and neuter clinic
  • Pet photography
  • Training services
  • Animal psychologist

17.) Mobile Entertainment 1

Entertainment comes in many forms and turning it into a mobile experience opens up a wide range of opportunities.

  • Live bands
  • Comedians
  • Magicians
  • Speed dating
  • Face to face video game tournaments
  • Mobile rave command center
  • Social club
  • Game parlors

18.) Mobile Entertainment 2

National and global events have become a key part of our social structure. One large video screen is all it takes to attract likeminded people and turn a simple broadcast into a community event.

  • Monday night football
  • Academy awards
  • VR-AR experiences
  • Olympics
  • World Cup
  • Popular TV shows – Walking Dead, Game of Thrones
  • Congressional hearing
  • Election night

19.) Specialty Product Shops

Certain products inspire unusual levels of loyalty and people who closely follow these products are always looking for the next great innovation.

  • Mustards
  • Spices
  • Hot sauces
  • Breads
  • Candy, taffy, cookies
  • Jerky
  • Teas
  • Makeup

20.) Talk-to-an-Expert Shops

People love to talk to experts to get answers for those nagging questions that create a cloud of uncertainty around most products. Apple stores are a perfect example of “experts shops” because each of their employees is a true expert on the products they sell. While Apple uses several elements to attract and engage buyers, the expert-to-consumer relationship is a key feature.

Other companies like Amazon and Google are looking to replicate the Apple experience, but they will have an uphill battle. Unless something major changes, Google will ultimately fail with their retail experiment because they have little respect for two-way communications. If you’ve ever tried to contact Google you’ll know what I mean. In the end, retail is all about two-way communications.

21.) No-Inventory Demo Shops

One major expense in traditional retail has been inventories and shelf space. For this reason a new breed of storefront will spring to life, with no inventory, focused solely on product demonstrations and same-day fulfillment.

While most people think in terms of cooking demos with chef’s talking about the food and cookware that they’re using, Demo Shops will include everything from athletic equipment, to toys, to hardware, to appliances, and more.

Most will be pay-to-play product placement stations with experts on hand to answer questions. Look for tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft to pave the way for these kinds of storefronts.

Will there be a mobile business in your future?

Final Thoughts

On a recent shopping trip, I went to three separate stores to find an unusual product. With each in-store experience I tracked down a sales clerk and they told me about an option that either wasn’t apparent to most customers, or that I hadn’t considered.

Yes, the online retail is stealing a growing percentage of business, but people-to-people interactions still matters. However, it’s mattering less, and pricing competition is making the people-to-people option a luxury.

When it comes to retail, consumers are in control. They decide what to buy, where to buy, when to buy, and how much they’re willing to spend.

In a connected world, where information is fluid and transparent, retailers must become actively engaged in the global conversation. If not, their customers will begin the conversations without them.

Physical stores still provide the best way to create a high-value relationship with customers that add to the brand experience, but in addition to online sales, they will soon find new competition in the form of mobile storefronts.

As the driverless era kicks into high gear, our thinking about proximity, place, and location will also shift. Will bricks and mortar retail survive? Yes, in some form, but it may end up far different than anything you can imagine.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future

3 Responses to “21 startling ways the future of retail will shift in the self-driving mobile business era”

Comments List

  1. Steve

    Nice observations. All these scenarios raise the problem of the usual filthy money grubbing local gubmints (“elected” mafia) wanting their shakedown cut.

    What you might get is the similar situation of cops arresting/beating these businessmen like NYC cops do when folks DARE to sell “loosies” (single cigarettes) on the street.

    “Sorry taxman, I’ll just drive off”. Or maybe park just feet last the city limits.

    Boy will the city fathers squeal. Not to mention traditional businesses that are paying the legacy costs and government vig.

    Reply
  2. Rowan Gontier

    Superb post Tom. Really fascinated by it. About Apple’s two way communication: they have helpful store clerks because they sell high margin products. Online queries to Apple are not as good! But Google is woeful, I must say.

    Reply
  3. E. Kierklo

    Unless a Value Added Tax (VAT) is instituted there will be the issue of sales taxes in the U.S. or elsewhere. Can imagine that each sale will have to be documented with a time, date, and geotagged for location given jurisdiction differentials and possibly uploaded to a central repository for analytics (govt for revenue and private industry for trends).

    Reply

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