Five trends that are reshaping retail

Retailers are going through the biggest transformation ever in the industry. Here are five major trends I believe are reshaping the retail industry and forcing retailers to reimagine their businesses.

1. Mobile devices are becoming the only devices for a large segment of consumers. According to a 2015 Google report, mobile device searches exceeded desktop searches, making it the #1 choice for retail purchases for over a year now. Eighty percent of consumers will use some form of mobile device and/or mobile application to drive purchasing decisions (Source: 2016’s Top 5 Retail Technology Trends by CSC).

Retailers have to be prepared for the mobile-toting consumer whose purchases are driven by what they see on mobile apps and mobile optimized web pages. Many consumers no longer have a PC or laptop and the percentage of consumers who use mobile devices instead of a PC or laptop to make a retail purchase is increasing. The mobile device has now been the device of choice for over a year now. According to Google, mobile device searches exceed desktop searches in October 2015.

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Consumers today use mobile devices for:
- Becoming informed about new trends/ products (e.g. Instagram)
- Researching products online (price comparison tools, reviews)
- Deciding what to buy
- Buying online

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For retailers, investing in mobile apps and mobile optimized web stores like the furniture store is a no-brainer decision today.

There is another side of the mobility aspect. Most of the stores are staffed by younger team members who find PCs and laptops foreign. Having them use a point of sale that is old-world, PC-based will likely result in a productivity loss with an unfamiliar user interface. Today’s POS systems are tablet/phone optimized and will provide better usability for team members that are used to mobile devices as their primary device.

2. Brick and mortar stores are shrinking and declining in number. Consumers are making fewer trips to stores. Retail store visits in the United States dropped from 35 billion in 2009 to 19 billion in 2013 (Source PriceWaterhouse Coopers). As a result, the number of stores have dropped. Also, retailers are moving to smaller store formats that require less investment and yet provide geographic coverage. Retailers that will buck this trend are off-price and discount retailers where the online competition is significantly lower. Other retailers will be best served by moving to smaller format stores.

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3. Creating unique in-store experiences is key. Customers no longer come to a store just to buy goods. It has to be more than that – a break from work or a visit that provides a new experience. Curating and creating unique in-store experiences can reverse the declining store-visit trend.

4. Moving from consumer engagement to intimacy. The entire customer experience needs to be personalized. As an example, this is what we know about Mary Jane. Based on the knowledge we have of her, we can create an individualized experience.

- A personalized promotion on her mobile app that brings her into the store: Summer is here – buy one iced green tea latte and get another one free.

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- A personalized greeting such as: Happy Birthday Mary Jane. You are eligible for a buy one, get-one drink free promotion. Would you like your regular iced green tea latte today?

- A reminder to come back: Bye Mary Jane. We are launching our pumpkin scones next month. You have to come back to try them.

5. Your customer is very different than you. Generation Z thinks very differently than prior generations. Experiences are more important than things. Brands are not so important and Gen Z prefers conversations through social media over voice. These trends mean that retailers have to embrace social media. That means a lot more than just posting promotions online but engaging actively online by listening to conversations, responding to posts and tweets and ensuring there are active conversations. Just a few facts to keep in mind:

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• Seventy-five percent of Gen Z prefer experiences over things
• Gen Z rent versus buy
• Sixty-one percent are not brand loyal
• Social media and texting is preferred over voice conversations
• “Edgy and dangerous” is favored over “predictable and safe”
• Independent labels and “mom and pop” brands win over big-name brands
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• Fun work atmospheres are desired more than high-paying jobs
Retailers will completely need to rethink their business and put in the tools that will help them succeed in the new world.

(The article is authored by Sandeep Walia, President of HITACHI Solutions Asia Pacific, Member of the YPO)

(YPO is the global platform for chief executives to engage, learn and grow. YPO members harness the knowledge, influence and trust of the world’s most influential and innovative business leaders to inspire business, personal, family and community impact. Leadership. Learning. Lifelong. For more information, visit YPO.org.)