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The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research

For a Special Issue on

The Future of Retail and Consumption

Manuscript deadline
01 June 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Gabriella Wulff, Faculty of Textiles, Engineering and Business, University of Borås
[email protected]

Hossain Shahriar, Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University
[email protected]

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The Future of Retail and Consumption

In an era where contemplations about the future permeate our conversations and narratives, retail and consumption are at a crossroads, grappling with the complex interplay of sustainability challenges and rapid technological advancements. Discourses in media and pop culture are rife with speculations about the impending contours of the future—a sentiment reverberated in academic spheres, as evidenced by a surge in research and special issues in journals on the future within the domains of consumer research and retail marketing (Dales and Ferreira 2023; Harmeling, Mende, Palmatier, and Gielens 2023; Inman, Campbell, Kirmani, and Price 2019; Klaus and Kuppelwieser 2019). In terms of sustainability issues, researchers in environmental sciences have demonstrated how we exceed the planetary boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009; Steffen et al. 2015). The consequences of climate change, one out of the nine planetary boundaries, are becoming clearer with reports on heatwaves, droughts, and heavy rainfalls, which are increasing in intensity and frequency (WHO 2023; IPCC 2023). This paradigm shift is not only acknowledged by environmentalists but also gains traction in diverse academic terrains, including social science (Latour 2021), political science (Keohane 2015), media and culture studies (Pinto, Prado, and Gutsche 2019), educational science (Barth and Michelsen 2013), and urban geography (Rinaldi, Giovanardi, and Lucarelli 2021). We echo the call within this journal for a renewed emphasis on research that confronts the pressing challenge of advancing sustainability in a retail sector historically centered on promoting overconsumption (Johansson 2022). Concurrently, technological advancements are catalyzing a profound shift within retail and consumption. Developments such as the metaverse, generative AI (artificial intelligence), blockchains, and immersive technologies are amplifying this transformation. While research on sustainability and technology may appear to travel divergent paths, this special issue seeks to harmonize these future-making trajectories, cultivating a confluence of perspectives. Building on the recently published book, ‘The Future of Consumption’ (Bäckström, Egan-Wyer, and Samsioe 2023), we aim to further the dialogue in this discourse by welcoming both previous contributors and new voices to this Special Issue on The Future of Retail and Consumption.

Retail research has lately shifted focus to a more forward-oriented agenda (e.g., Bansal, Nangia, Singh, and Garg 2023; Evans 2011; Grewal, Motyka, and Levy 2018; Paredes, Olander Roese, and Johansson 2023), where three overarching trajectories are dominant. First, an increasing number of researchers have focused on sustainability issues. While social sustainability in the supply chain was the core of early studies (Hutchins and Sutherland 2008; Spence and Bourlakis 2009), more recent studies have put environmental sustainability in the spotlight, such as green retailing (Lai, Cheng, and Tang 2010; Fuentes 2011), a shift towards a more circular economy and circular business models (Frei, Jack, and Krzyzaniak 2020; Geissdoerfer, Pieroni, Pigosso, and Soufani 2020; Hultberg and Pal 2021; Jia, Yin, Chen, and Chen 2020). Sustainability issues connected to retail have thus been identified as a key in also understanding the future of retailing (see, for example, Vadakkepatt et al. 2021; Wiese, Zielke, and Toporowski 2015). Second, technologies have been developed and used to revolutionize retail and consumption. While traditional retail has developed over the last centuries, e-commerce has only recently exploded, not the least in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with large consequences on how consumers shopped, but also in the market organization (Wulff 2023). As online shopping grew in popularity, the shortcomings became clearer. The high return rates that had been noticed already before the pandemic (Cullinane, Browne, Karlsson, and Wang 2019; Robertson, Hamilton, and Jap 2020) became an even larger problem as more sales were made online (Zhang et al. 2023). This spurred the already ongoing development of technological solutions to support the customer journey online, for example, augmented and virtual reality, metaverse, magic mirrors, body scanners, and sizing recommendation systems, as well as the rise of AI (see, for example, Guha et al. 2021; Shahriar 2023; Shankar et al. 2021; Xue, Parker, and Hart 2023; Yoo, Welden, Hewett, and Haenlein 2023). The recent development in technology has been referred to as a fourth industrial revolution, meaning that technology comes with the potential to change the contemporary way of production and consumption (Schwab 2017). Already now, there are signs of this development taking place, and the above-mentioned examples are just a few. A third research stream focuses on experience design and the role of the physical and the online store of the future (Alexander and Cano 2020), with themes such as in-store technology (Grewal, Noble, Roggeveen, and Nordfalt 2020), a customer-centric framework (Gauri et al. 2021) and multi-sensory VR experiences to promote sustainable consumption (Laukkanen et al. 2022). As demonstrated by the last example, the three research streams are becoming inextricably intertwined.

Within consumer research, the pursuit of understanding the future unfolds across three key domains. The first research stream delves into digital virtual consumption (Denegri‐Knott and Molesworth 2010) heralded by technological advancements reconfiguring the digital consumer culture. Within this ambit, the discourse spans from platform-mediated (Schöps, Reinhardt, and Hemetsberger 2022) consumer publics (Arvidsson and Caliandro 2016), algorithmic culture (Airoldi and Rokka 2022), memetic logics (Schöps, Schwarz, and Rojkowski 2023), disinformation (Diaz Ruiz and Nilsson 2022), visibility labor (Duffy, Pinch, Sannon, and Sawey 2021), to marketing in (Anselmsson and Tunca 2019)—and the future of (Appel, Grewal, Hadi, and Stephen 2020)—social media. Furthermore, this investigative realm ventures into a diverse spectrum of transformative technological leaps, such as AI (Letheren, Russell-Bennett, and Whittaker 2020), machine learning and big data (Thompson 2019), immersive extended realities (Ambika, Shin, and Jain 2023), web 3.0 (Murray, Kim, and Combs 2022), blockchain and non-fungible tokens (Belk, Humayun, and Brouard 2022), the metaverse (Shahriar 2023), wearables (Akdevelioglu, Hansen, and Venkatesh 2022), biohacking (Lima, Pessôa, and Belk 2022), and beyond. Secondly, there is an evident gravitation towards sustainable and ethical considerations in the marketplace. As technology becomes deeply ingrained into consumer interactions, it raises pressing ethical challenges, in terms of surveillance capitalism (Zwick and Bradshaw 2016), data privacy (Horppu 2023) and algorithmic manipulations (Darmody and Zwick 2020). Alongside this, as today’s consumers—steeped in neoliberal ideologies of responsibilization—become more politically astute and aware about the environment and their wellbeing (Giesler and Veresiu 2014), there is a marked rise in ethical (Coffin and Egan–Wyer 2022), green (Chatzidakis, Maclaran, and Bradshaw 2012), sustainable (Connolly and Prothero 2003), and (anti)consumption practices (Hoang, Cronin, and Skandalis 2023). Such consumer resistance nudges the market towards eco-friendly (McDonagh and Prothero 2014) and socially responsible (Laczniak and Murphy 2006) marketing, and sustainable living (Casey, Lichrou, and O’Malley 2020), prompting a paradigmatic shift towards alternative ecological (Giovanardi, Lucarelli, and Pasquinelli 2013) and biological approaches (Askegaard 2021). With the ever-evolving nature of the marketplace and consumption (Molander, Ostberg, and Peñaloza 2022), driven by exogenous shocks (Wulff 2023), societal fragmentation, and rapid shifts in the global socio-political landscape (Ulver 2021), the third future-making research avenue focuses on societal geopolitics. This fluid landscape reflects the complex interplay of ideologically polarizing (Molander 2021) political structures (Barbrook and Cameron 1996) and algorithm-driven media ecosystem (Ulver 2022). Concurrently, there is a renewed emphasis on diversity, equality and inclusion (Arsel, Crockett, and Scott 2021). This encompasses areas such as migration, multiculturalism and ethnic diversity (Veresiu and Giesler 2018), the wide-ranging identities within gender (Dobscha and Ostberg 2021) and sexuality (Coffin et al. 2022), and the ways in which technology reproduces entrenched sociocultural structures, such as gender (Schroeder 2021).

We initiated this call for papers by underscoring that the fields of retail and consumption stand at a crossroads. In this Special Issue on the Future of Retail and Consumption, we challenge the conventional notion that technological advancements and sustainability represent mutually exclusive pathways. We are particularly interested in papers that synthesize these two research areas, identifying common grounds and exploring ways they can complement each other to collaboratively propel consumer research and retail marketing forward. We encourage and advocate for research that can contribute to the collective for a genuinely progressive future (Latour 2004) in addressing pressing issues such as the environmental crisis. As researchers, we believe the present moment, more than ever, calls for collective action to lay the foundation for a sustainable future, striving towards vibrancy and resilience for the following generations.

Submission Instructions

For this special issue, we welcome contributions on topics such as:

  • green, sustainable and ethical consumption
  • climate crisis implications
  • circular economy and business models
  • anti-consumption, consumer resistance and responsibilization
  • consumer health, well-being and care
  • gendered technologies and eco-feminism
  • global geopolitical shifts and polarizing socio-political ideologies
  • technological advancements, e.g., AI, big data, blockchains, virtual/augmented realities, etc.
  • surveillance capitalism, privacy, data security, and consumer manipulations (e.g., dark patterns)
  • wearables, objects, sensory and bio-interfaces
  • experience design, such as new store formats and digital shopping experience
  • social media, communities, publics and platform-mediated algorithms
  • shaping of markets, tastes, consumption patterns and brand preferences
  • sustainable innovation, green, clean or eco- technology
  • alternative ways of paradigmatic rethinking

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. We welcome contributions on other topics connected to retail and the future of consumption.

Accepted papers are expected to become available online in Summer 2025. All submissions will undergo a rigorous double-blind peer review process. Authors are encouraged to visit the journal website to know more about The International Review of Retail, Distribution, and Consumer Research. Manuscripts should be submitted via the Taylor & Francis submission portal, adhering to the standard submission procedure. Please make sure to meticulously review the submission information instructions for authors, which encompass structural requirements, word limits (8000 words), style guidelines, formatting, templates, referencing styles, and checklist. For any inquiries, expressions of interest, or questions regarding expectations and requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the special issue editors ([email protected] or [email protected]).

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