The Trends Shaping Retail in 2018

by Greg Griffiths
January 11, 2018

It’s hard to know which is the chicken and which is the egg in today’s evolving retail environment. Is consumer buying behavior being influenced by the ubiquity of mobile technology, or are consumer behaviors changing how companies design our devices and/or digital experiences to accommodate those behaviors?

In the end, all that really matters is that we live in a world of immediacy where information and communication are exchanged in real-time, and in the mind of the consumer, what they see, need and desire should be attainable with the same ease—regardless of technology or channel. Their experience must match—and ideally exceed—their expectations, and that requires acquiring and applying intimate knowledge of each customer based on individual behaviors and preferences to create a truly one-of-a-kind personalized experience.

Sound too good to be true? Not for those retailers who prepare for that elevated experience with agile technology and new processes that adapt to current and future customer expectations.

Rising customer expectations continue to rule the day

Customer-centricity continues to be the driver in 2018, and retailers who deliver a truly customized experience will create a market differentiator that will be hard to beat. Data from industry experts at BRP Consulting indicates that the following five customer centric trends will continue to shape the retail shopping experience in 2018 and beyond.

  • Personalized shopping. With multiple ways to shop—online, mobile and brick-and-mortar—retailers can collect valuable customer data 24/7, enabling them to continually refine and create a unique experience by identifying the customer as soon as they enter the store. 70% of retailers indicate customer identification is their top customer engagement priority, up from 62% last year.
  • Seamless experiences. Seeing each channel as separate from the whole, or simply bridging them via Omni-channel technology is not a viable long-term strategy and that’s why 71% of retailers plan to have a unified commerce platform by the end of 2019. Retailers must move toward a model that serves customers wherever they are, in whatever channel they’re using, connecting the dots between them to keep them moving within the retailer’s brand ecosystem, while each channel works in harmony to nurture more sales and engagement.
  • Curated selection. Using customer information, retailers can create exclusive product lines or assortments based on specific tastes or interests. Personal stylists (think Blue Apron for meals, Birchbox for cosmetics and Stitch Fix for clothing) use customer-created profiles (likes, dislikes, preferences, budget) to virtually read the mind of the customer, make product selections for them and arrange for the items to be sent directly to the customer before they specify them.
  • Same-day delivery. When Amazon announced the idea of a drones delivering packages in 2013, we all thought the idea was a bit ‘out there’. Four years later, it doesn’t seem unreasonable at all. Certainly, consumer appetite for instant delivery has only increased, driving the number of retailers offering same-day delivery to triple in the past year to meet elevated customer expectations.
  • Voice-assisted ordering. Retailers, and especially grocers, are embracing voice shopping and search driven by the prevalence of voice driven assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and even Apple’s Siri. Walmart, Best Buy, Target are just a few of the retailers who see the value of this technology to increase simplicity and convenience. Retailers need to accelerate their plans to integrate their offerings with voice-assisted technology to meet this demand.

Disruptive technology is changing the experience

Customer familiarity and comfort with emerging technologies is growing with increased exposure in the marketplace. If innovation isn’t a strong component of your strategy, now is the time to become knowledgeable and incorporate technologies that will increasingly shape the retail CX in 2018 and beyond.

  • Artificial intelligence. Within three years, 45% of retailers plan to utilize AI to enhance the customer experience. AI offers the ability to optimize data gathered on customers and their preferences to personalize their shopping experience.
  • Augmented and virtual reality. These technologies are familiar to consumers who readily see using AR and VR to enable digital changing rooms where they can try on multiple outfits with the swipe of a finger, or find out more information about a product, or even where and how a product was made.
  • Unified Commerce. Integrating online and offline systems and inventory  enables customer-pleasing innovations like order anywhere, ship to/pick up anywhere, among many others.
  • RFID, IoT, geofencing, digital displays and kiosks, autonomous fulfillment, and much more.