Today’s connected consumers (particularly Gen Z, those born from 1995 - 2009) expect instant gratification, new experiences and personalisation in retail. As a result, they’re driving a massive shakeup in the traditional retail landscape. Savvy businesses are now quickly pioneering changes, forcing others to adapt or be left behind.
Below are 2018’s top retail trends, and some of the most innovative companies that are helping to usher them in.
Reimagined brick-and-mortar businesses
Brands are redefining what it means to have a physical location. Instead of simply opening more shops in the mould of their other flagships, they’re exploring new real estate strategies and investing in brick-and-mortar businesses that focus on unique experiential moments.
Cosmetic company Glossier found the perfect way to answer their customers’ need to try before they buy, while still offering a unique Instagram-worthy experience any Generation Z shopper would be keen to document. Their pop up store, furnished with mirrors, fresh flowers and plush armchairs coincided it’s opening to fall within weeks of its online store arriving in the UK. The result? A perfect way for customers to try the products, discover the brand and be immersed in its unique creations, everything needed to inform their online purchasing.
Even retailers like Amazon are understanding the importance of coming offline and offering more than just their products. For Black Friday the brand took over a London residence and crafted a home inside, letting consumers see products in action, sample tasty treats and even have their makeup done by a YouTube star. This effort to connect with its younger audience is one many brands will have to match in the coming year.
It’s not just chain store giants putting this approach into practise, independent shops, with their exclusive feel are arguably the leading lights of these sort of multi-concept shops. Take The Modern Society in London, an establishment that is part café, part clothes boutique where their own genderless label is sold and part exhibition space.
These types of next-generation shopping strategies give customers a reason to visit shopfronts beyond just the products, and help forge a more emotional connection with brands.
Visual search technology uses machine learning to find and recommend products online based on matching attributes like shape, colour, pattern or even texture. Rather than a word-based search query, a shopper just has to snap a photo of the desired product to generate relevant search results.
The result is a faster discovery of relevant products the customer is expressly interested in. Imagine, for example, searching for a little black dress with a specific hemline. If the keywords aren’t within the product description or metadata (or a customer doesn’t know how to describe the hemline), it’s likely going to be a nightmare to find. But visual search can use a photo to quickly narrow down products, removing tonnes of friction from the intent to buy to the final sale.
Visual search is particularly suited for retailers with large inventories or search results. ASOS has already invested in creating visual search technologies and Pinterest has added similar capabilities for its users to browse its site with greater ease.
Customer-controlled delivery and returns
Today’s consumers want instant gratification. They’re looking for products that are available exactly how, when and where they want them. Smart brands are adapting by putting control in the customers’ hands.
As ever, Amazon has this demand covered, with Amazon Lockers available in supermarkets, stations and public buildings nationwide for customers to collect their goods if they don’t have a suitable delivery address. And if they do, Amazon gives the option to select the precise day and time of the delivery. Currys PC World is following suit and recently launched same-day delivery.
Other brands have learnt that free order-online collect in-store services are now becoming standard, with shops like Sports Direct off-setting their £5 fee by presenting customers with a voucher of the same value to spend in store upon collection of their items.
Augmented reality (AR) has been on trend lists for a while, but brands are finding new, innovative ways to infuse the technology into the shopping experience across all channels.
Tesco’s Discover App lets customers point their phone’s camera at any of their catalogues or publications for exclusive content about the products it contains.
Harrods and Covent Garden were just two major London shopping destinations to use AR last Christmas to get people shopping, with hidden items (all available to buy in nearby shops) only able to be discovered by pointing a smartphone camera at shop windows and other festive installations.
Curated subscription services
Customers now expect tailored experiences — which explains why personalised subscription boxes are so popular. Serving as a new avenue for product discovery, making a box for a brand will also let you gain invaluable insights on consumer appetite for certain products in the process.
Graze, is a great example of the subscription box done right. Once an online-only snack emporium, the brand can now be find in any self-respecting supermarket, and their subscription boxes mean their customers can remain loyal with the freedom to mix up their selection in a way that lets the company shape a precise profile of their likes and dislikes.
Similarly, high street chocolatier Hotel Chocolat have their own subscription service or “tasting club” where customers can sign up for 3 – 12 months of chocolate treats.
Big brands like Adidas and Sephora have taken to the trend across the pond, but there is plenty of room for small businesses to get in on the act back in Blighty, with the majority of the nations subscription services being small business ventures like The Naked Marshmallow Company and their popular box.
With increasingly connected customers and Gen Z driving seismic shifts in shopping behaviour, 2018 should be a very interesting year in retail.
Sell intelligently with Square point of sale
Track your inventory, sales and locations with our free POS