What’s next for retail in the 2020’s?

Take a walk down any major shopping street and look at the cutting edge of the retail landscape; it’s clear that “experience” is on the rise but the fact is no-one is really pulling it off or taking it to where it needs to be. There are two distinct layers to this:


  • Extraordinary and innovative experiences that make you want to visit the store repeatedly and build your connection to the brand.

  • Seamless shopping that connects the transaction process online and offline so that buying the products is as quick and easy as texting.


Brands are getting one or the other right but so far no one has got both to a great level. Some brands do an amazing job of showcasing their products, which are innovative and complex, but they explain them in a visual way which simply makes sense to anyone. This, paired with great design and a razor-sharp focus on the value proposition, makes for a winning combination.


Another notable brands are furthest down the line will fit their stores with the latest in digital experience. Where product’s barcode can be scanned in the store via the app which allows you to buy them directly, get someone to bring it to you to try the item on, or find the right size. Others have a great in-store shopping experience that allows consumers to take a photo of any item in the store and find it online and check its in-store availability as well as other nearby stores where it is in stock.  Most of these experiences depend on consumers downloading the specific app.


In summary: the importance of doing both well and perfectly fusing the in-store experience with the digital shopping experience can’t be under-stated. It’s all about bringing product service and experience together and using physical stores as both transactional and experiential hubs. And the experience needs to truly extend beyond the store and become more about the role brands and retailers play in the lives of their consumers on a day-to-day basis.



Sustainability & transparency


Consumers are increasingly aware of and expecting social, ethical, and environmental responsibility from brands and retailers, whether in the products or the physical stores. Beyond marketing hype and fancy displays to tell consumers that they are indeed socially, ethically and environmentally responsible.


Selling refurbished and second-hand goods, rental models, recycling programs, membership over consumerism and end-to-end transparency on manufacturing processes that are truly communicated and available to the consumer are trends that are growing in popularity because they are what people now expect. Retail is set to be a key factor in determining how brands get this done.



Physical stores are spaces where sustainable practices can be tangibly demonstrated, communicated and enabled. People care about this and as we start the next decade brands will need to focus on delivering experiences and products that are as sustainable as possible. As we see a continuing increase in awareness and demands for transparency from consumers this will drive a shift back to higher quality, longer lasting products, showcased in energy-efficient environments that are exciting and validating the sustainable credentials of the company. The marketing, sales, product and retail components all need to come together to provide a new way of delivering value that goes beyond just trying to sell more product. We cannot build a functioning circular economy without the functioning seamless experience that enables it.


This brings us to how that’s going to happen and the final point.



Connectivity


We know that in-store connectivity is a big thing. People make decisions with their phones, checking product reviews, confirmations from friends on social media, selfies in the changing room and so on. Yet using the wi-fi in most stores is often painful, and in some even a network signal is not available. This is simple to improve and, with the impending roll-out of 5G, must be an imperative for all companies. However, connectivity goes far beyond enabling network access: we’re talking about the link between the consumer and the brand, via the product.


We are seeing the first signs of IoT coming to life in fashion, lifestyle and apparel and this will accelerate. Notable brand recently announced that all their products will be enabled with QR codes which deliver digital experiences, others have its scannable barcodes in stores, and many brands are experimenting with AR, but a lot of the executions we currently see miss the point. Having a connected product means you have a gateway to your consumers. Unfortunately brands only look at connected product from a sales point of view, and not from a human perspective. Connected product provides the potential to create and maintain a personal relationship with a consumer through the single long-lasting touchpoint a brand has with them.


The product can tell its story; it can be individually identified to show its provenance and authenticate it. This also enables the circular models of subscription, used goods and recycling as well as providing a means by which a brand can hold itself and others accountable for where the product ends up.

What does this mean for retail? Everything.



When the experience across marketing and sales is merged with the day-to-day usage of the product across a fully-connected digital ecosystem, retail has the potential to becomes a totally different beast. The in-store product experience must be put on the screens in the consumers’ hands as well as on the physical displays. Let them interact with the products physically and digitally and make the buying process easy and fast. At the same time show them where the products come from, how they’re made, and how they can be passed on or rented, or recycled. Let the connected product be the key to accessing exclusive areas and services in stores. Give experiences to everyone else who wants to interact with those products anywhere in the world.



Conclusion


The opportunities are endless with the right consumer-centric focus and effort. In the next few years the boundaries between physical and virtual retail will effectively disappear. This gives brands and retailers the tools to transform shopping from a simple transaction to an engagement experience.

The intent of many of the world’s leading brands to do this is clear but to really make an impact they need to tie everything together and focus on doing more than just trying to sell more products.

Going shopping needs to be an involving and enjoyable experience, not a task, otherwise why should consumers leave home when they can buy anything online and have it delivered within hours or worst-case a few days? In part this is a “back to the future” situation, given that 100 years ago the most successful retailers built relationships with their consumers through personalized services. Today technology is the key enabler to create those relationships again, but it will take creativity and strong leadership along with a consistent consumer focus to be successful.