How an Exodus from cities will reshape retail

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The work-from-anywhere revolution will accelerate the coming of a post-digital age for shopping, argues Doug Stephens of Retail Prophet.

Throughout history, cities have played a central role in the evolution of retail. From the grand bazaars of ancient times to the opulent department stores of the 1800s to the venture-backed start-ups of the 2000s, cities have offered the stage, the audience, and ultimately, the financial prosperity to power retail through the ages.

But in major developed economies like the United States, we are set to see an outbound migration from cities the likes of which we have not experienced since the 1950s. Just as the IBMs and Microsofts of the world did 40 years ago, migrating to the boundlessness of the suburbs, today’s corporate giants are rethinking location once again, except this time encouraging their employees to live and work wherever they like.

On May 21st, Facebook announced that it would give its employees not only the freedom to work from home permanently, but also to spin a globe and point to wherever they’d like “home” to be. Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge, “We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale… I think we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.” That same day, Shopify and Twitter both made similar announcements. Shopify founder and CEO Tobias Lütke said he expects most of the company’s employees to choose the work from home option, adding: “The choice is really, are we passengers on this tidal wave of change? Or do we jump in the driver’s seat and try to figure out how to build a global world-class company by not getting together that often?”

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