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Retailing is now more of a "foraging experience" than anything else. It represents the largest level of dissatisfaction in the consuming process. As a result, there will be significant changes and formats in the short-term future.

Consumers feel comfortable evaluating products and prices, and we feel comfortable understanding advertising messages; it is in the arena of physical distribution that the frustration is felt most.

The biggest change in retailing will be the question of "who owns the data," or what will be known as the privacy issue. In effect, the future of retailing is not about the bricks and mortar, it is about how well retailers connect with customers in order to "own" the data about people's lives.

We have all recognized that the data built on our transactions have become valuable. We simply request that we are remunerated for that transactional data. Retailers and manufacturers will "dogfight" over the ownership of this important construct to the future of retailing.

The second major impact on retailing is the megatrend toward "situational life-styles." People today find themselves in a different situational service need on each trip to the store. The ability of a retailer to identify the consumer's situation and to deliver the appropriate service level will define the winners and the losers.

When I was a child, every day of the week was the same month after month after month (Wednesday was Prince spaghetti night). Today, there is not a Wednesday in my life like any other Wednesday. Smart retailers will provide variable service modules within existing store formats.

Retailers continue to think that consumers want quality, service, style and selection. We say to retailers that what we want is "an experience." An experience can be driven toward the maximization of efficiency or an experience can be driven toward entertainment. Retailers who recognize that there is this bipolar orientation towards the foraging process and build strategies around either or both of these concepts will be tapping into the underpinnings of our motives.

I predict that changes in store formats, including the viability of both the "inventoryless store" and the "employeeless store" under the same roof, will be the most profound area of change in the marketing mix over the next 10 years.

Mr. Wacker is managing partner and resident futurist of Yankelovich Partners, Norwalk, Conn.

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