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Retail Fights Back: 5 Trends To Watch

Retail is reinventing itself to meet the needs of a new generation

The season’s chatter is about the Retail Apocalypse. No doubt, there are signs of it everywhere. “For Rent” signs on empty storefronts, silent malls and landlords who have made store real estate prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, retail is still responsible for a huge slice of the employment pie. 

Retail is reinventing itself to meet the needs of a new generation of shopper, and technology is playing a major part. Capitalizing on the “in store” experience and human touch, analyzing data and using it to provide personalized offers, and the marriage of online and physical experiences are all playing their part in the transformation. Here are five retail trends we’ll be taking a look at during the High-Tech Retailing Summit at CES 2018.

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1. Shopping That Feels Like Magic

Shoppers are looking for authentic experiences that feel seamless and natural: climbing walls to test out gear at REI, apps that book Santa’s appointment in advance at Macy’s, AI try-on rooms at Nordstrom, cashless checkout counters, unboxing experiences using AR, ordering online and picking up in the store. These are just a few experiences we’re seeing. And if 2018 is the year of voice assistants and chats, that message is not lost on shoppers. Visit Sephora or Wayfair, for example, and you’re immediately engaged with helpful robo-chats. Stores are beginning to build Amazon Alexa and Google Home experiences, while Facebook Messenger sees itself as a new way for business to touch consumers. The Internet of Things — in-car payments, appliances like fridges buying groceries, rings and bracelets with payment systems built-in, and unattended retail kiosks like the ones from USA Technologies — are coming to market. New concept stores like b8ta are allowing retailers to control their own experiences for customers. 

2. VR & AR

Stores are experimenting with virtual and augmented reality to engage customers. YouCam from Perfect Corp. is an augmented make-up mirror app that’s recently partnered with L’Oreal to showcase their products and then let you buy through the app. PayScout VR teamed up with a boutique Yoga Store to offer something that feels like more of an experience than a store. Ebay, IKEA and LEGO are just a few others stepping into virtual reality. 

3. Omnichannel Fever
Meeting the shopper where they are is paramount. Walmart sales are up 50 percent in Q4 thanks to a smoother integration between its online and physical stores. 

Best Buy has also enjoyed healthy sales thanks to programs that better train their in-store sales staff but are also aligned with online pricing. Lowes lets you look up an item online, tells you which store has the product, and even knows the aisle and bin number to direct you to once you arrive. 

4. It’s All In The Data
Behind the seamless experience lies a lot of data. Data is informing stores about peak customer hours, giving them the insight to staff more appropriately. It’s allowing merchants to analyze foot traffic and mobile traffic foot traffic to help build a wealth of data on how consumers react to a display or walk through a store. It helps personalize data so that a 60-year-old man is not getting the same discount offer as an 18-year-old woman. It creates efficiencies in inventory, and provides insights into customer satisfaction. Many of the new analytic systems focus on being easy to configure with actionable insights from a graphic dashboard. 

5. In The Near Future

The shopping experience is an ever-changing one, but one thing remains constant: no matter how great an online purchase experience is, people still want to feel, touch and sniff the goods. From the bazaars in the olden days, to the popularity of the farmer’s market today, experiences are always going to matter.  

Robin Raskin is the founder of Living in Digital Times and producer of the High-Tech Retailing Summit at CES. This segment of the show will look at how retailers are using technology to sell smarter, utilize data better and create stronger connections with consumers.