In the near future, storefronts will combine the best elements of physical stores and online shopping--and offer tech that's not yet commonplace.

An event in New York City this week called The Big Future of Shopping Small is putting that idea on display. The mock storefront--a collaboration between American Express and trend forecasting firm WGSN--is meant to show visitors what the future of in-person retail might look like. It's timed to coincide with the 10th annual Small Business Saturday, the retail holiday American Express created.

During Inc.'s recent visit to the space, a set of shelves and display cases on one section of the floor sat bare. But when visitors held tablets or smartphones in front of them, products like T-shirts, handbags, and sunglasses appeared on their screens. The items could be rotated in three dimensions, and users could alter colors and designs with a few clicks.

The idea is that online retailers that might not be able to afford brick-and-mortar storefronts or pop-up shops could rent out space on these virtual shelves, allowing them to get their products in front of customers who want to do their shopping in physical stores. As 5G connections become the norm, the experience will become even closer to real-life perusing, with items appearing on screens in high definition and software that responds with no noticeable lag time. Virtual fitting stations will let visitors try items on their own bodies, albeit only on a screen.

While the technology on display in the space was for demo purposes only, some startups, like New York-based Perch Interactive, are already developing AR tech that lets in-store users see what out-of-stock products like bags would look like in a person's hands. Warby Parker's app allows users to try on glasses, live and in 3-D, before deciding whether to buy them.

Elsewhere in the pop-up retail space, visitors hovered around shelves of wine bottles from brands like 19 Crimes. When they placed their phones over the labels, the static characters on them became talking animations on their screens. With augmented reality solutions like these, retailers will be able to offer customers information beyond what's written on the tag--and maybe lure them into a purchase by providing some quick entertainment.

Another display in the space, a mini-convenience store from retail startup New Stand, showed how customers can self-check-out by scanning products with their phones and paying via a digital wallet--no need to wait in line.

This year's Small Business Saturday, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday each year, takes place on November 30. 

Published on: Nov 29, 2019