The American economy in 2019 continued to thrive, with a declining unemployment rate, lower tax rates, and more people willing to spend their disposable income than in years past. According to The National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans spent 4% more this past holiday season. It’s now up to retailers to take advantage of that potential growth and revenue and think about 2020. How can you do that? By getting ahead of the competition and understanding the latest retail trends.
However, this isn’t as easy as simply reading a top retail trends list and immediately implementing the strategies therein — after all, what works for a major department store retailer might not work as well for an online retailer, or for their respective customer bases.
To help you develop a consistent, comprehensive, innovative strategy for your business, let’s take a closer look at some of the latest retail trends for 2020, complete with examples of how different retailers have put them into action.
1. Strike a balance between digital and physical
Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) are at the top of every retailer’s wish list, not to mention every retail trends list. But not so fast: Even though online shopping is immensely popular, with some consumers engaging with a chabot or even electing to have a robot shop for them, many still prefer the in-store experience. More than two-thirds of shoppers this holiday season will research products online and buy at least some of these items at a physical store.
The key to avoiding tech-induced fatigue is to employ a strategic combination of the digital and the physical. The omnichannel approach isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s one that’s playing out in real-time to great effect. When Amazon acquired Whole Foods — their first foray into the brick-and-mortar world — they immediately set to work lowering prices and implementing practical technology, including 5% cash back for Amazon Prime members who use their Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cards in-store.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, brick-and-mortar discount giant Target made its own leap into the world of ecommerce integration with Cartwheel, an iOS and Android application that provided coupons to customers and used Bluetooth beacon technology to map in-store deals. Target phased out the standalone version of Cartwheel in 2017, rolling its features into the flagship Target app to boost its profile and provide customers with a more unified shopping experience. In September 2019, Target further enhanced the experience by rebranding the Cartwheel app; it’s now known as Target Circle and offers the same benefits, plus personalized perks and early access to sales throughout the year.
The benefit to this retail trend is three-fold; it enables retailers to:
- Expand into new markets and increase growth potential
- Create a seamless and convenient customer experience across channels
- Build more meaningful interpersonal relationships with the customer base
The key to this list item is to execute an effective omnichannel strategy is to implement software that provides centralized operational management and cross-channel visibility, so you can gauge what level of technical integration will create the sort of universal experience customers are looking for and deliver the greatest ROI.
2. Embrace experimentation
Despite what you’ve heard, traditional retail is not dead. Brick-and-mortar purchases still account for the majority of commerce, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. The resilience of brick-and-mortar stores has enabled retailers to experiment with their storefronts in creative ways, which might be the key to surviving the ongoing “retail apocalypse.”
For example, one of Nike’s most recent flagship stores, which opened in New York, features exclusive opportunities for NikePlus members, such as free shipping for online purchases, access to limited-edition products and even a members-only floor with a basketball court so customers can test out products in a state-of-the-art facility. By dangling the carrot of a completely unique and exciting shopping experience, the sportswear retailer actively incentivizes customers to enroll in its loyalty program and raising the bar for industry competitors.
You can expect to see the popularity of experimental brick-and-mortar formats, such as pop-up shops and tech-enabled concepts, continue to grow as one of the biggest retail industry trends in 2020 — and with the right data to back it up, creating experimental storefronts is a trend that can pay dividends.
3. Combine convenience and customization
Retail customers are no longer interested in old-school marketing tactics. Instead, they expect a custom shopping experience that caters directly to them. This dynamic shift applies not only to marketing, but to the products and services businesses offer.
Today, almost half of buyers have made an impulse purchase after they received a more personalized shopping experience. But personalized services aren’t the only way to lure customers — according to a 2019 Walker Sands retail report, about three-quarters of consumers say free shipping is the most important factor.
So, why not combine these two elements? That’s exactly what popular subscription box services like Birchbox and Stitch Fix do, and traditional retailers have taken notice. The appeal of these subscription services is their delivery of convenience and customization in a box — customers get exciting new products tailored to their tastes delivered straight to their doorsteps, all without having to fight crowds or sacrifice personalization. To keep up with competition from these services, beauty retailer Sephora and department store retailer JCPenney have thrown their hats into the ring with their own subscription boxes.
- “Play! by Sephora” was launched in 2015, charging subscribers just $10 a month for a box full of custom samples. Play! boxes also show extra attention to detail with curated Spotify playlists, “Play! Pass” coupons for in-store activations, and application tips.
- JCPenney debuted the “Big & Tall Box” in 2017, a service that caters to big and tall male customers.
Even if a subscription service doesn’t seem like the right next step for your business, you can still provide customers with convenience and customization. Develop a strategy that delivers a personalized customer experience that’s consistent across your brick-and-mortar, online, and mobile stores, as well as across customer service and marketing campaigns. Also, be sure to give your customers plenty of purchasing and pickup options — they’ll appreciate the added convenience of being able to choose whether to pick up items in store or other locations, or to have them delivered to their homes.
4. Engage customers with voice-first devices
The importance of mobile shopping continues to be one of the top retail technology trends for 2020. According to a recent OuterBox article, 79% of smartphone users have made an online purchase using their phone within the last six months. Also, 80% of shoppers have used their devices inside of a physical store to look up production information, reviews, etc.
However, a new segment of mobile-based ecommerce is on the rise. Voice assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, are rapidly becoming fixtures in homes around the world, so now’s the time to get in on this growing retail trend. About 20% of consumers who own these voice-activated devices have used them for shopping-related activities, according to Digital Commerce 360.
Retailers that sell daily-use products are more likely to find voice-assisted purchasing useful versus purveyors of big-ticket items like furniture or electronics. If you’d like to take the next step, look into tools and software to develop an application for voice-enabled technology for your business.
5. Implement SMS Marketing Messages
In a text-heavy communication world, consider providing short message services (SMS) messages to consumers about product releases or special sales, which is another one of the top 2020 retail technology trends.
While consumers need to opt-in to this service, this retail technology trend may be more effective than emails, which only have about a 20% open rate. SMS messages, on the other hand, can see open rates as high as 98%, according to Power Reviews.
Many brands, including Kohl’s, Macy’s, Office Depot, and many others, offer SMS messages, which include special deals, coupons, or even sale incentives for an initial sign-up.
JoAnn Fabrics, for example, provides SMS messages on “doorbuster specials,” early Black Friday deals, coupons, and flash sales. Links are included in the messages, which take users directly to the mobile coupons and a list of current promotions and offers. Consumers click on whichever sale or deal appeals to them, and they are immediately transferred to the appropriate page.
6. Foster a sense of community
Social media remains one of the easiest avenues to promote your product to and within your customer base; in fact, 3.2 billion people are on social media throughout the world. As customers grow more social media-savvy, strategists need to leverage social media in more innovative and remarkable ways to sustain interest.
Retailers are increasingly using features such as Snapchat and Instagram stories to craft more authentic, brand-centric narratives. Some retailers actively incorporate one of the retail industry trends mentioned earlier — personalization — into their social media strategies by tailoring their marketing based on factors like users’ Facebook likes or which Instagram profiles they follow.
One of the biggest social media opportunities and retail trends for 2020, though, continues to be brand communities. Customers appreciate the opportunity to engage with fellow consumers with whom they share interests, and more and more retailers are developing their own platforms to inspire customer engagement.
Sephora was one of the first brands to create such a community, starting with BeautyTalk in 2010; the latest iteration of Sephora’s brand community, the Beauty Insider Community, enables members to chat in a Reddit-style forum, submit photos, and rate and review different products they’ve tried.
PlayStation’s PlayStation Plus Community works similarly in that it also provides a members-only forum for general conversation. PlayStation Plus Community also enables members to read and write blog posts, share their progress in the games they’re playing, and share gaming pointers.
The idea behind these customer-based communities/branded social media platforms is simple: Give customers a place where they can share tips, opinions, and interests, replicating that “real life” communal feeling all people crave. This takes the impersonal social media and ecommerce experience and adds a human touch.
7. Engage with customers through social media
Instagram has changed not only the way consumers buy products, but also how they interact with them. According to Walker Sands, 13% of consumers are willing to spend more money with a new brand or retailers if it has been promoted by a celebrity or social media influencer. Consumers also seek out online recommendations; in fact, 24% of consumers will try new products recommended by Amazon than a brand or retailer.
It’s also important for brands to engage and interact with customers via email and social media. According to Sprout Social, 47% of U.S. customers have a more favorable view of brands who respond to questions or complaints through social media. A lack of response can also negatively affect business; about half of consumers say they would avoid a particular brand due to a poor response on social media.
8. Make data-driven decisions
Data is king. If you aren’t using data-driven decision-making across all channels in your business, you’re missing a major opportunity. In fact, data-driven retail is perhaps once again the most important of all retail trends for 2020.
Why? Because it plays a supporting role in all other trends listed above, or any other trend you might implement. Big data is crucial for:
- Pricing products competitively
- Offering a sufficiently diverse assortment of products
- Increasing employee productivity
- Satisfying customer demands
But collecting that data is only half the battle. Once you have customer and industry data at your disposal, it’s vital that you choose a software solution that quantifies that data in a centralized location and empowers you to make smart, data-driven decisions that boost sales, improve management efficiency, and delight customers. To see data-driven decision-making in action, look no further than Kohl’s: The department store provides its store managers with a dashboard of local customer data. It then uses these weekly statistics to maximize marketing and styling within the store and to determine inventory popularity.
9. Understand the big-ticket purchase experience
While almost 90% of consumers use the Internet for product research, online browsing and research hasn’t always translated to online purchases — but that is changing. According to Walker Sands, almost 90% of consumers start researching a product online; this research has translated to more sales without the consumer leaving the comfort of home. Now, nearly half of consumers are more open to buying a big-ticket item online.
Items such as furniture, cars, and appliances have also seen the most growth in online browsing and purchasing within this latest retail trend. About 20% of consumers, for example, have purchased furniture online within the past year.
10. Align your brand with consumer values and views.
While perks, free shipping, and loyalty programs continue to attract and maintain a strong consumer base, one of the latest retails trends is taking a stand: According to Forrester, more than 55% of consumers will consider company values when making a purchase.
According to Walker Sands, two-thirds of consumers believe it is “important” or “very important” for brands to take stands on political and social issues.” Consequently, more than two-thirds of consumers in the 18-35 age bracket say that the political climate has impacted their retail shopping experience in some way.
Patagonia, for example, has aligned this latest retail trend with this mantra of sustainability. The company has implemented the Worn Wear program with the idea that proper care and repair will extend the life of their clothing and reduce the need to buy more. Consumers can shop for used items on the company’s website or attend events around the country, where they can pick a garment and fix – or bring their own for repair. Patagonia also offers free online do-it-yourself repair guides, and customers can share their stories virtually. According to the company’s website, there can be a 20-30% reduction in carbon, water, and waste footprints by using clothing for an additional nine months.
11. Embrace sustainability and offer rental opportunities.
Three out of four consumers are more interested in investing in experiences rather than purchasing products. The “Marie Kondo Effect” — the idea that less is more — has fostered the idea that you can often rent instead of buy particular products. According to Walker Sands, 66% of consumers are buying less with the goal of maintaining a clean, organized lifestyle. Also, 49% of consumers of all ages have rented at least one type of product in the last year. According to The Muse, you can now rent dresses, textbooks, power tools, and video games.
Also, two-thirds of consumers under the age of 35 say “they are at least somewhat more likely to purchase a brand or retailer committed to sustainability.” Eight out of 10 consumers say it’s at least a consideration when making a purchase.
They have been really growing their business. They have partnered with some retailers to take in used clothing or individuals can send their clothes into ThredUp for consignment or credit towards purchases at ThredUp.
12. Provide a personalized and seamless experience across all channels.
Consumers are looking for a seamless retail experience across the board, including in-store and online purchasing, interaction through social media, and using a brand’s mobile app.
According to the Retail Trends Playbook, 70% of consumers say a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences loyalty. Also, about 90% of consumers are more likely to shop their brands who recognize and provide relevant offers and recommendations, and 51% of consumers believe it’s important to receive a personalized experience across all digital channels within a particular brand.
In addition to the right technology, this also means that brands should consider the right inventory and personnel.
Retail Trends Overview
Implement the Latest Retail Trends
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Learn more about our exciting retail solutions that will be featured at the Microsoft booth at the NRF Big Show!
Q: How many extra jobs does the retail industry create during the holiday season?
A: According to the NRF, an estimated 530,000 to 590,000 temporary workers will be hired during the 2019 holiday season.
Q: What are the primary concerns for consumers around the holiday shopping season?
A: About 46% of American consumers say that their primary concern is not knowing what to purchase. Budgeting is second at 44%, and crowds and queues in stores round out the top three concerns at 39%.
Q: How much will consumers spend during the 2019–2020 holiday season?
A: According to the NRF, consumers will spend approximately $658 on gifts for family, friends, and co-workers; $227 on holiday items such as candy and food, etc.; and $162 on other non-gift purchases that will use holiday promotions and sales.
Q: What percentage of sales do the holiday represent?
A: According to the NRF, holiday sales account for about 20% of annual retail sales, though the numbers can be higher for hobby, toy, and game stores, which often see 30%.
Q: How important is the security of a website in a consumer’s retail shopping experience?
A: Very important. Almost 85% of consumers will not purchase an item online if they are dealing with an unsecure website.
Q: How much do consumers value using social media when it comes to customer service?
A: Almost 60% of Americans believe that social media channels has made it easier for brands to answer customer service questions and complaints.