The retail world is changing fast, and it won’t slow down anytime soon. New technologies and shopping habits are challenging brands of all sizes to keep up with new customer expectations. The good news is that retail is still the place to be. In May 2019, U.S. retailers generated 3.1 percent year-over-year sales growth.
Whether you sell online only or across multiple channels with multiple locations, keeping up with trends in retail can help you create a customer-centric shopping experience by offering your customers exactly what they want. Here are five top retail trends to keep in mind as you look to grow your business.
1. The growth of mobile payments
Thanks to adoption by most mid-market and larger retailers, mobile payment methods such as ApplePay have quickly become a favorite way to pay among shoppers. And as the speed of online shopping comes to the offline experience, shoppers are now clearly gravitating specifically to stores that offer cashless checkout and cardless payments. The fact is, today, most shoppers have easier access to their phone than their wallet, and they love the speed and convenience of making purchases with this technology.
If your POS system is still limited to pre-smartphone payment methods, it’s time to upgrade to an efficient, innovative payments/point-of-sale solution that accepts mobile and wearable payment options. By upgrading, you’ll be able to complete transactions more quickly and accept a wider range of payments, which means shorter lines and happier customers. Everyone wins!
2. Faster and cheaper shipping options
Retailers are currently in a heated race to provide better shipping options to their customers than their competitors do. Your shipping offerings now commonly impact not only online orders but also in-store orders for items that are out of stock at that location.
Amazon has single-handedly set the new normal for shipping and fulfillment. Thanks to free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime, customer expectations have been forever changed. Think you can’t compete with a retail giant like Amazon? Think again.
By analyzing your order volume and margins, you can design your own free shipping policy and apply it across your products. The technology is now easily available to offer ship-from-store and in-store pickup to your customers, offering them better choices for speed and convenience. The retail market has already shown that faster shipping gives you an advantage over your competitors. This is why some retailers are even developing same-day delivery solutions: The more you can minimize the time between ordering a product and having it delivered, the happier your customer will be.
Along with faster delivery, your customers increasingly expect free shipping and returns—especially from apparel brands. Providing this service can come at a huge cost, so be sure to keep an eye on the bottom line and adjust your free shipping threshold if you need to. It’s a big challenge to master, but the effort will pay off as you build customer loyalty.
3. Continued enhancements to personalization
Personalization isn’t a new strategy, but improving the quality of that personalization is more important than ever. Competitive brands are collecting first-party data across as many channels as possible and aggregating it to get closer to each individual customer. These deeper insights allow them to provide a more personalized shopping experience, customizing content and interactions at the individual customer level based on their previous activity.
To better understand their most valuable customers, retailers can now cross-reference customer data against big data acquired from third-party services. This can give your brand a “secret sauce” for identifying potential new customers by understanding trends in your current customer base—such as family size, political party, and income status—and targeting these populations in your marketing.
Mobile retail apps provide an extra edge because they can obtain location data. DTC brands such as Warby Parker and Bonobos have created their own mobile apps and used location strategy to great effect by using the info to understand where their customers live, how far they’re willing to travel to visit a store, and where to locate their next brick-and-mortar location.
4. Applying the ‘Internet of Things’ online and in-store
IoT devices are quickly changing the way customers search for information and shop online. The popularity of in-home products such as Google Home and Amazon Echo has increased the amount of voice-driven internet activity in American homes.
This type of e-commerce, known as “voice shopping,” has big implications for brand-building. For example, when a shopper attempts the voice command “order paper towels,” the suggested products will be open to interpretation by the voice assistant unless the customer specifically names the brand they want. This puts retailers in steep competition to become everyone’s favorite brand for their type of product.
IoT technology is changing the physical store, too. Brick-and-mortar retailers are taking an increased interest in IoT devices that can improve store operations, deliver product messaging, and create a more connected, intelligent customer experience.
In lieu of paying for surface-level store remodels, for example, you could update your retail spaces with smart beacons, QR codes, and other interactive elements that merge the physical and digital retail experiences. This is one way of turning your store into an immersive experience that will engage your customers.
5. Building a connected brand experience
Your brick-and-mortar locations now play a new role in your larger brand experience. From social “Instagram backdrops” to pop-up shops and “try and buy” experience labs to using the retail store as an order fulfillment center, it’s about building a more connected experience for your customers.
The value of the in-person shopping experience is reinforced by the movement to reframe stores as event destinations—places to really experience the brand IRL (in real life). New release drops and special product features can be particularly effective. When you coordinate these experiences with consistent merchandising, inventory visibility, and omnichannel discounts and gift cards, you begin delivering your brand promises consistently across channels in a way that truly resonates.
There’s no question that the retail shopping experience is changing. But it’s changing for the better, creating new opportunities to engage your customers and deliver fresh and exciting shopping experiences.
The more willing you are to experiment with new strategies, the more likely you’ll be rewarded with increased customer loyalty. Retail success isn’t as simple as selling products anymore—you need to build an audience that seeks out your brand above all others.