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The future may look grim for retail employees, but the fate of shopping malls could be bright—depending on their ability to successfully evolve. CNBC's Krystina Gustafson and a handful of industry experts paint a Jetsons-worthy portrait of what that might look like. Here, the most intriguing predictions.
1. An increase in interactive technologies: Innovative concepts include the "endless aisle, where customers shop at a kiosk and can purchase items that are no longer in-stock or aren't sold in stores"; magic mirror programs, which encourage shoppers to virtually test makeup and clothing before sharing looks via social media; and full-body scanners that analyze more than 200,000 reference points before providing "a personalized list of recommended apparel brands and sizes."
2. Hypercustomization: 3-D printers will allow retailers to "print on demand," bringing the final step of the manufacturing process in store. Kids may even get in on the action by building their own toys.
3. A shift from commerce center to community experience: To lure people from their homes (where they can easily shop online), retailers will need to provide unique activities and forms of entertainment. Existing examples include "The Beach in Dubai, which combines shopping, the sea and an outdoor cinema" and The Siam Paragon Mall in Thailand, which "includes language schools, a cooking school and an aquarium."
4. A varied tenant mix: One expert envisions a one-stop-shop model that includes everything "from restaurants and grocery stores to spas and body sculpting classes ... as consumers look to consolidate their trips to save time."
5. Cash registers will be obsolete: Rather than wait on line, customers may be able to scan digital shopping carts (via mobile apps) at kiosks.
6. Smaller selling floors: Improved shipping capabilities mean that stores will no longer need to pack racks. "The belief that every size, style and color should be cash and carry seems to be changing, and also allowing retailers to trim their store layouts and their inventories." —Lauren Berger