It wasn’t long ago that some retail analysts feared a major meltdown in the industry. The rise of online shopping giants and changes in generational demographics seemed to pose a threat to the status-quo of retail. But if 2017 and 2018 have shown us anything, it’s that retailers are continuing to thrive because of these changes, not in spite of them.
Innovations in consumer technology have significantly disrupted the retail landscape and will continue to do so. Retailers who are willing to adapt to these rapid changes will likely succeed this year and beyond. Let’s take a look at five retail trends that will define 2019.
Experience Over Product
The convenience of online shopping has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to rethink their purpose in the lives of consumers. People can easily purchase the things they want from their phones and computers, anytime, anywhere. This is why selling products can’t be the only game these businesses are playing. If it was, most consumers wouldn’t bother entering the store.
The new consumer generation seems to value experiences more than objects. Shopping isn’t just about buying new clothes or tech, but about getting out of the house and hanging out. Stores that offer a cafe area, comfy seating, free WiFi, and/or unique events have a distinct advantage in today’s retail space. They give people a reason to show up, stay a while, and become loyal to the brand.
Further Automation and AI-Integration
To stay competitive, retailers have to stay on top of the latest technology. While a growing contingent of consumers wants to slow down and enjoy an experience, others care more about convenience and efficiency. In the retail space, automation and AI are making it easier for shoppers to find what they’re looking for, both online and in-store. AI chatbots are becoming more and more prevalent, helping online shoppers easily navigate a retailer’s website and find relevant information.
Many of the big-box retailers and grocery stores now also feature self-checkout lanes and unique shopping carts with phone holders built-in. All of this is designed to simultaneously save the business money on labor and resources while making shopping faster and more convenient. The past few years have seen improvement in these areas. In 2019, many of these concepts will become further refined and implemented.
With increased access to information, many consumers are becoming more skeptical and critical of large corporations and their practices. Modern retailers are wise to get ahead of this trend and make transparency a major focus. Many restaurants and food sellers are already doing this, labeling their menus and products so that it’s clear where the product came from and how it got to the consumer. Being open and honest with customers serves to strengthen brand loyalty and reputation.
For retailers, this transparency can come in many forms. A retail store might tell its customers what its shopping carts are made of or where they’re manufactured, for instance. Or, it might feature images of manufacturing plants and workers, letting consumers know who works across the chain, where they work, and what’s being done. Besides legal concerns and trade secrets, there is no limit to how transparent a retailer can be. And, for the most part, the more open they are, the better. Expect to see more of this outlook in 2019.
It has been a long-running joke that corporations struggle to connect with the current culture. But this has been changing rapidly over the past decade, in part thanks to social media and a general shift in marketing philosophy.
Clothing retailers may provide the strongest example of the ways in which companies are keeping their finger on the pulse of society. In the past, most of these businesses relied heavily on images of models to promote their products. Today, it’s widely understood that these beauty standards are unrealistic and potentially harmful to one’s self-image. Many clothing retailers now use “real people” in their ad campaigns, featuring a wide range of body types, ethnicities, and abilities. Some consumers will see this as a cynical attempt to connect with a broader demographic, but most consumers will appreciate such changes.
On social media, some retailers are connecting with consumers by creating and sharing memes, partaking in current popular trends or challenges, or communicating directly with users. All of this is done to make brands feel more down-to-earth and increase trust and loyalty in consumers. The past few years have seen a lot of this behavior, and 2019 will surely see more of it.
Subscriptions and Delivery
Retailers know that not all customers want to walk around with shopping baskets, slowly grabbing items and carrying them to checkout. To compete with the major online sellers, retailers must come up with ways to make the shopping experience as frictionless as possible. Many businesses are now offering services that allow a customer to order what they need ahead of time so they can easily pick it up later, or have it delivered directly. Upon receiving an order, third-party or in-house employees will put together these personal shopping carts or baskets so the consumer doesn’t have to.
Beyond this, subscription services are also entering the retail space. Many consumers now prefer paying a static monthly fee to receive their products. This makes budgeting easier and reduces the time spent picking out items every trip. Subscription services have already begun to take over the entertainment and cooking spaces, and in 2019 they’re bound to start taking over retail as well.
Other Trends are On the Way
The five retail trends outlined above are just some of the most glaring for 2019 so far. There are bound to be plenty of other trends on the way this year and beyond. Retailers must pay careful attention to all of these changes and adapt to them quickly in order to succeed in such a turbulent era.
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