Retail Industry Trends’ Rough Terrain

Ann Marie Alanes
Jul 4, 2018 · 9 min read

The retail industry remains a dynamic landscape because it is at the mercy of the ever-changing demands of the consumer. The consumer is more powerful than ever with easy access to an abundance of product information and choices. Below is a list of trends in the retail industry; challenges and developments that are constantly keeping everyone in the retail world on their toes. We’ll offer ideas on how the following retail industry trends can be turned into opportunities for your business.

Customer-Centric Culture

Customer-centricity is the launching pad for all the other retail trends at the forefront of the industry’s mind. It maintains that all efforts at every stage of running a business are in line with making it easier on customers to complete their objectives and goals. Any improvement to the bottom line would be a natural consequence of focusing on the customer at every touchpoint rather than focusing primarily on sales. In fact, according to global management and consulting firms, , that bottom line will increase by 60%. So how does this fit into your business? A good start is to ensure that everyone in the company lives and breathes your customer service mantra. This not only includes the people in your company who see your customers face-to-face, but internal departments as well.

What can your shipping department staff do to make your client’s life easier? In a business-to-business setting, packages can be labeled in a way that allows the client’s receiving department to easily account for products that come through the door. In a business-to-consumer setting, your inbound marketing team can offer several options for sharing concerns via an online chat window, email, phone, online form and social media channels. Your design department can offer a client portal to make it easy for your return clients to access their history of files for decisions on re-ordering or requesting changes to previous designs.

Brand Representatives

The ubiquity of e-commerce and mobile technology has allowed customers to easily arm themselves with information before interacting with any store employee. They know the product’s features, its price range, the general opinion of the product through customer reviews and the product’s competitors. By the time they arrive at the store, they’ve narrowed down their choices. The last thing they want is to be sold to. Brands and retailers are addressing that by separating product exploration from the sales process. For example, BMW’s “Product Geniuses” are not on commission and can take the customer through an informational journey at their own pace. If and when the customer is ready to buy, they are handed off to the sales team. The program has been so successful that many BMW dealerships have increased the amount of Product Geniuses on their teams. Former Apple Retail Executive, George Blankenship, has one-upped the car-buying experience by bringing Tesla to the mall environment in a refreshing way. Their showroom style is experience-focused, just like Apple stores. And Tesla’s product specialists, who don’t work on commission, happen to already be passionate about the product. They are additionally trained to engage with the customer so that they leave the store smiling instead of feeling like they’ve been sold to.

Examples of other brand representatives that have changed their focus from sales to service include Kate Spade Muses, Apple Geniuses, Origins Guides, Microsoft Advisors, Best Buy’s Geek Squad Agents, Lululemon Educators and Sephora’s Cast Members. The way in which you engage with your customers online is a perfect example of how you can apply this to your business. A majority of companies who connect online via Twitter will send an impersonal direct message pushing their product, service, website or their other social media accounts. This is why many automated direct messages lead to a 245% increase in un-follows according to marketing software company, . The most successful Twitter users represent themselves as a person with a face and they engage in a way that shows a genuine interest in other Twitter users by promoting them, conversing with them about their interests and generally being helpful.

Transparency

Transparency is the broadest of retail industry trends listed here because it not only exists in the retail world, but it has become a standard throughout the business world and our culture as a whole. “Loosening tight control and exposing vulnerabilities can increase loyalty and deepen relationships, reveal problems companies aren’t yet aware of, spur innovation, increase the value of a core product or service, and enable participants to take independent actions that serve a common goal” according to of Deloitte. With all the proven benefits, it’s a wonder why more companies fear transparency. But now customers expect to have direct contact with brands and brand leaders through social media, making transparency and accountability inescapable and required. Questions and concerns are now public and to ignore them is detrimental to the company’s brand image. Customers are no longer attracted to perfect brands. The “it” brands of today are flawed. If a company makes mistakes, consumers will focus on how the company corrects those mistakes.

One way to increase transparency at your company is to encourage your CEO to increase their engagement in social media. Consumers increase their trust in a brand whose leader willingly puts herself in a public forum. ‘s survey shows that “77% of respondents were more likely or much more likely to buy from a company whose values and mission are defined through CEO and executive leadership participation on social media,” and “82% of respondents were more likely or much more likely to trust a company whose CEO and leadership team engage with social media.”

Showrooming

“82% of consumers use their cell phones while shopping”, according to . If you’ve ever used your cell phone to compare product prices at the store, only to end up buying it online, then you’re “showrooming”. Did you decide to buy it at the store instead? If so, then you’re “reverse showrooming”. There are several phone apps that make it easy to “showroom”. Take the Amazon phone app, for example. Clicking on Amazon’s camera icon activates a reader that scans the product’s UPC bar code. The same product pops up within the app, giving you access to a range of prices and customer reviews for that brand as well as numerous other brands. Best Buy prints QR Codes on each fact tag for every product it offers in-store to enhance the customer’s experience with product reviews and features. Now more than ever, it’s important that your product features and reviews are available both on and offline.

Brands can reap the benefits of this omni-channel user experience by allowing online customers to post reviews for each product on the brand’s website. This information would be accessed through QR codes printed on product packaging as well as on feature benefit cards included on the brand’s retail displays.

Reconfigured Spaces

Many businesses have seen success in turning their stores into destinations, prolonging the amount of time customers spend in the store. In addition to offering a daycare facility, a restaurant and a grocery store, IKEA has long been a pioneer in store designs that increase sales. Located at the beginning of the store’s deliberately-designed maze, IKEA’s showrooms help customers visualize how their products would look in a home environment causing an increase in impulse buying as customers advance through the deluge of product along the meandering path through the rest of the store. San Jose, California’s Bass Pro Shops (Outdoor World) has also succeeded in making itself into a shopping destination by offering a bowling alley, a restaurant and a large aquarium in a welcoming lodge-setting complete with a dramatic fireplace and rocking chairs.

The showroom for Hointer Jeans Beta Store in Seattle has a different goal: Frictionless commerce. Its aim is to remove the inconvenient process of searching piles of jeans for the right size and cut. Now only one type of each jean is showcased with a scannable code. After choosing the size, a phone app indicates the assigned dressing room. A robot drops the specified size and style of jeans through a chute into your dressing room.

According to Wharton marketing professor , “The store-within-a-store has the effect of stabilizing the price competition across all retailers. This [is] very important if the retailing market is very competitive,” And it’s mutually beneficial for both parties. Best Buy receives rent from big-name technology companies like Samsung, Microsoft and Sony in return for giving these brands a designated space to increase their presence, reach new demographics, decide on their own pricing and offer better customer support.

How can smaller companies get in on the action? The answer is pop-up shops. Brands and retailers can rent an affordable space on a short-term basis to sell their wares and services. The temporary presence of the brand turns it into an event, which is especially appealing to the younger demographics of Millennials and Gen Z. According to Jim Fielding, global head of consumer products and retail at Awesomeness TV, Generation Z is “experimental…innovative. They’re risk takers and…love to discover new things.” Other benefits include the flexibility to close in slow seasons, the ability to generate buzz, the opportunity to test product performance and build brand awareness. The pop-up concept has been so successful that Westfield San Francisco Centre opened up 37,000 of its square footage for BeSpoke — a vast co-working, event and demo space that often features pop-up shops, fashion shows, conferences, classrooms and other events.

Store Picks-Ups, Same Day Delivery and Free Shipping

shows that “50% of respondents have abandoned a purchase online due to unsatisfactory delivery options.” To address this, the option of picking a purchase up at the store is also offered by many online stores with brick-and-mortar presence, like Target, Toy R Us, Best Buy and REI. And many companies like Google Shopping Express, Amazon Fresh and even the U.S. Postal Office now offer same day delivery while Instacart promises “groceries delivered in one hour”. Online retail giant Amazon offers free 2-Day shipping through their Prime memberships, and Zappos touts “always fast, free shipping & returns”, many times beating their stated delivery time.

Businesses can immediately put this into practice by making good on their delivery promises or exceeding them, providing several options for getting their customer’s purchase in their hands and making returns as painless as possible. Even when you fail to keep that delivery promise, the double efforts made to correct it does not go unnoticed and builds loyalty. Peter Mannos, Senior Manager — Global Visual Brand Display of Brooks Sports, recently shared the following with us: “I’ve always felt that one of the real values of a vendor partner is how well they react if/when the unthinkable happens and something DOES go wrong with a project. CDI (Concept Designs, Inc.) does high-quality work and stands firmly behind it — on the rare occasion when there’s been a problem, they fix it as fast as possible and make sure I’m 100% satisfied with the solution. How many vendors fly two of their people to your DC on their dime to spend an entire day unpacking a display with a part that’s not right and then re-packing each and every one so your entire inventory of fixtures is ready to ship to your accounts the next day? Not many, I’d guess — but that’s exactly what CDI did for me and my company, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve worked with them for over 10 years now.”

Retail Technology

The digitization of the retail experience has been the most overwhelming of the retail industry trends. Stores are experimenting with everything from facial recognition and augmented reality to smart shelves and 3D printing. The H&M in New York Times Square offers iPad stations and payment in fitting rooms. Peapod’s virtual grocery stores are going strong throughout the Midwest and the East Coast at train stations and at many popular events. Burberry Regent Street in London features the world’s tallest digital screen in a retail store in addition to the 100 screens that they use to provide signage and ambiance, stream fashion shows and input orders.

Target features a separate “internet of things” showroom with floor to ceiling digital screens demonstrating different scenarios for making your home smart. According to a , digital technologies “influence 36 percent or $1.1 trillion of in-store retail sales.” And that number continues to grow as each year passes.

Want some ideas on how you can keep up with the retail industry trends and integrate digital technology into your store environment? Check out .

Ann Marie Alanes

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