Consumer and Retail Trends in 2018

2017 was the year of what some might call the retail “apocalypse”, however, I have always been steadfast to say, “retail is not dying, retail is evolving,” and 2018 is going to be where we really see that shift.

Here are a couple of the key points to go deep into what these consumer trends are going to look like.

  • A shift towards consumer-centricity
  • Voice search and what that means for the consumer, brand or retailer
  • Individualization
  • Mobile-first and mobile-only technology platforms
  • Gen Z and Gen Alpha and the rise of new online apps and platforms
  • Pop-up shops and shop-in-shops
  • Co-retailing

Trend #1: Consumer-Centricity

Consumer-centricity is the synergizing of sales, marketing, and merchandising to better service the consumer. This means everything from how you communicate on your mobile devices to how you communicate in your weekly newsletters are all going to be impactful ways to complete the customer experience. It’s not just about securing that first-time buyer. It’s about getting repeat purchases. Consumer-centricity draws upon the after-sale and the after-care- what happens after you’ve sold a product.

Text messaging is going to be one of the biggest waves we see return in terms of consumer-centricity. I’d like to say we’re just moving back to how we used to do old-school clienteling. Recall memories of the black book. Sales associates would have a book of all of their clients and everything they’ve purchased. That’s currently transitioning into CRM or Consumer Relationship Management systems. Sales associates used to text or call their customers when new product came in. Now we have the ability to do that en mass – and on a large scale – by some of the new text messaging applications on the market.

Consumer-centricity is not just getting them in the door. It’s servicing them outside of the product. It’s about selling a lifestyle, showing that your products and that who you are as a company really plays a role in their lives. Truly serve to add value. The ways in which consumer-centricity, aside from text messaging, is going to really take form is how you’re leveraging all of your different social media platforms and how you are getting in front of your customer in real life.

Trend #2. Individualization

These days every single person seems to be an entrepreneur. We’re living in a big gig economy. Anyone with a driver’s license can go out and drive an Uber. Everyone can go out and rent their apartments on Airbnb. The idea of being able to turn every single person into their own business is interesting. Similarly, while we have the rise of the gig economy, we also have people who are looking for more personalized services. 3D printing, for example, is an amazing way to offer customization. People seek to be integrated and spoken to when they log on to your website. They’re more and more likely (and open) to integrate and sign up with Facebook or any other social application.

Why is that important? It gives you so much information and data about who your customers are. Sometimes we like to see it as a relationship between the consumer and the brand or retailer. Just as much as consumers want to be sold to, they want to be sold to in individualized ways. As retailers and brand owners, we want to be leveraging that data to offer better services, products, and price points to the consumer. On this point of individualization, go back to understanding your data analytics. What kinds of tools and business intelligence software can you integrate? Data is the new oil. How are you mining for that data?

Trend #3. Voice Search

What’s so neat about voice search is that it’s really as simple as being able to pick up your phone, turn on dictation, and say, “Hey, where is the closest Starbucks?” Siri is one of the first to adopt this kind of voice search technology. However, it is now being proliferated through Google Home, Alexa, Amazon Echo amongst others, like Siri. For example, if you’ve ever picked up your phone and asked for directions or you’ve started to use any type of voice dictation, you’re already implementing these technologies in your own life.

One thing I always tell people when we speak in front of big crowds is, “Take a look at your own consumer habits, take a look at how you guys are consuming and using data and technology”. Similarly, your clients are also adapting and using those similar types of services. When it comes to understanding voice search, what’s going to be so fascinating for you is that it’s going to really impact SEO. Before, it used to be that from an SEO standpoint, you could have misspelled words because, obviously, some people would be typing so fast that they would misspell certain keywords or key long-tail phrases. But now, you’re going to see less and less search misspellings.

You’re also going to see platforms like Alexa and Home start to have partnerships with different retailers and different ways of curating product. You’re going to want to make sure you’re partnering up with these services in order to find out how you can also take advantage of search. And lastly, you might also encourage people on your e-commerce platform to be searching. You might say on your sidebar, in the hello bar, “Press your voice dictation. Let us serve you better.”

Trend #4. Text Communication

Along with voice search, we will be seeing more chatbots. It’s great to be able to offer a live person who can chat with a customer in that moment, but if you’re not able to have someone who is actually behind the scenes, having a chatbot that reads you’re online or not available won’t do you much good. The consumer is still left discouraged. So if you have the ability to have customer service on the backend to manage those live chatbots and live chats, that is amazing. If you’re selling a high-end product or service, or you think your customer might need a little bit more information to close the sale, make sure there’s someone on the other line of that chatbot during regular operating hours.

The chatbot really relates to another huge trend – text messaging. Text messaging goes back to old school clienteling when you’d have your CRM software and your black book and start to connect with your consumer. However, what’s so great about text messaging is that it is brand new for the consumer. There is a 98% open rate on text messages because it’s so new. Not everyone is using it.

I’ve seen it executed a few different ways. The first is executing it by needing to text XYZ phone number to get 15% off your first purchase. You can also send a bounce-back email or something that informs your customer, “Hey, we’re going to notify you via text message when your product arrives. We’ll keep you up-to-date with news and shipping information.” You can also notify shoppers about it at checkout, when you have a little box for signing up to the newsletter. One example is: “Let us inform you about your purchase via text message.”

When you start implementing text messaging, make sure it reads, “Message and data rates may apply. Text us back with ‘Stop’ in order to end.” There are some legal requirements that arise and you do not want to get in trouble with any local or federal laws regarding using someone’s phone number. Still, text messaging is the new email.

I love how some brands are implementing this. The sneaker company, GREATS, is doing an amazing job. Not only are they notifying me every time there’s a new product on the site, but they’re even leveraging it to tell me about interesting collaborations and things that they’re doing. For example, they just partnered up with Nordstrom, and they send a text message out to everyone to say, “Hey, we have this cool collaboration. Click here to learn more about it.”

Similarly, there is a brand new fragrance company out there called PHLUR, and what’s so interesting about what they did is when they shipped over a product, they also sent me a text message and said, “Hey, we hope you enjoyed your samples. Let us know if you have any questions. By the way, text and message rates do apply. Text us back ‘Stop’ if you no longer wish to receive these messages.” It’s an interesting strategy to drive traffic and maintain interest – as well as using it as a customer service platform.

Trend #5. Gen Z Apps

Gen Z is right behind the youngest Millennials. The term “Millennials” is really varied and so wide. There are older Millennials who have children right now, and there are also younger Millennials who are graduating from college. But the Gen Zs are the ones who are in high school. They are the ones who are just starting college and they are implementing some really cool apps in order to get people interested. Big apps for 2018 are ICMs like YEAY and Yellow, and online hangouts that are really geared towards Gen Z to activate them. I love these platforms because they’re allowing teenagers to be able to also adapt to the gig economy. They’re also allowing teenagers to sell things online.

Often, when we think about new technologies and new social media apps, we think, “Let me wait and see how it’s going to adapt first before we actually adopt this for our business.” However, by the time it becomes big, you might be late to the game and late to the platform. So I suggest really keeping your eyes and ears on the ground for the latest new technology apps in terms of social selling and social media. Every single young person out there today has the capacity to become their own business and own entrepreneur.

If you can capture those audiences and turn them into tomorrow’s influencer and tomorrow’s sales ambassador, you’ll start to see better partnerships. A great example of that is Musical.ly. Musical.ly started off as a platform for lip-syncing, and has now turned into a major platform for young people to make performances. Imagine sponsoring or having your jacket or t-shirt on a Musical.ly singer. This is amazing product placement for Generation Z to be able to be influenced. These are the people who have been growing up with YouTube. These are the people who are growing up with Snapchat. They already know the power they can have over an audience and the power that they can have to be entrepreneurs.

We’ve seen a huge trend toward spending more and more money on digital marketing, online dollars, and how we drive traffic. Mobile selling is so valuable and important. A lot of companies are launching with mobile-first platforms and then building e-commerce after the fact. It gives you an opportunity to be able to really leverage and test and have different strategies for your mobile sites versus your e-commerce platforms. And, of course, you’re going to want to leverage those opportunities to drive traffic and real-life experiences.

Trend #6. Co-Retailing

Co-retailing is a big idea that came out in 2016/2017. Co-retailing simply means there is an empty space and there are a few different partners and brands in there renting that space together. They are usually in high-traffic, high-density areas. Brands are flocking to these spaces because of how difficult it can be to get bought into retail stores. The market has been tight and difficult because there are so many brands. Brands are taking it on themselves to be able to collaborate with one another and rent spaces together. You’re also seeing sites like Flying Solo and Dreams on Air, which are brick-and-mortar spaces finding, selecting, and curating brands. Wolf & Badger is another great example, you can actually rent space from them to have your product sold in a high-traffic area.

Trend #7. Shop-in-Shops

We’re seeing the rise of the shop-in-shop. 2017 saw so many examples of big-box retailers opening up shop-in-shops – including Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. They’re also starting to introduce more emerging designer shop-in-shops in their spaces. You might be asking yourself, why do all these big guys care so much about emerging designers and emerging brands? It is the age of emerging designers and emerging brands. Consumers want newness. Retailers need to find newness. Find them by going to the brands not being sold everywhere else. Brands, don’t be afraid to pitch those retailers, and retailers, keep your eyes and ears on the ground for these brand new designers. These designers are the ones that are going to drive the newness, the freshness, and help you attract a much stronger consumer base.

Trend #8. Pop-Up Shops

Pop-up shops will continue to rise, especially as we see the decline of storefronts closing on a national level. Recently, on a trip to New York, I was walking around the West Village and I saw so many empty storefronts, and I said to myself, ‘What a great opportunity? What an amazing opportunity to be able to have a pop-up shop?’ And the pop-shops are no longer just branded pop-up shops with a single brand. You’re starting to see retailers open up satellite locations with other smaller brick-and-mortar spaces. This is an amazing opportunity if you are a small retailer or even a larger retailer and you’re looking to get in front of and curate a smaller selection of products to that customer. Back in the day, J.Crew did a great job of that when they opened up their men’s store. This was a little satellite store they had in New York City that was curated towards that particular man and towards that consumer. You will start to see more and more of that happen.

If you have difficulty or trouble or even want to run through your strategy and make sure you’re honing in on the right market platforms, please do send us an email at hello@scalingretail.com. We work with amazing brands globally in terms of getting a strong market entry strategy together, making sure you’ve got the right communication voice, and harnessing on technologies for tomorrow that will impact your customers today.

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