If competition breeds innovation, then there are few sectors more rife with both than retail. 2016 proved another landmark year for the market.
Amazon, one of the big winners from the first round of retail disruption, continued to push the envelope. Amazon Dash has brought consumers a step closer to a more automated shopping experience, and the Amazon Go concept store looks to bring the smooth online checkout process into the offline environment.
Start-ups have kept on innovating too. Uber Eats and Deliveroo, by providing real-time deliveries, have helped to transform consumer perceptions about how digital applications can change the shopping experience.
All of this has set the stage for an interesting 2017.
The big trends of the past year will no doubt continue to have an influence as more retailers fall in line, but this year will hold its own promise – and challenges – too.
Here are five things that retailers should be keeping an eye on:
The living wage is going up
This will undoubtedly have an impact on how retailers approach spending – particularly in economic times that remain far from certain.
Paying for staff is a given, so it will be important to assess how to manage the bottom line and reduce any unnecessary costs.
There’ll be room for digital transformation, automation and robotics to play a role here. Admin-heavy, time-consuming tasks will be streamlined, giving employees more scope to adapt to their own roles and continue to improve what they can offer to customers.
Greater shop assistant availability will open up opportunities to provide, for instance, more personalised, curated shopping experiences instore – a perk that many customers have come to accept as standard practice when shopping online.
Things will get personal
The Open All Hours days, when shopkeepers knew all of their customers (and their orders) on a personal basis, might seem like a long time ago now.
2017, however, is set to usher in a new age of this kind of relationship – bringing the shopping experience full circle.
A true integration between the online and offline environments will allow this to happen, and provide a genuinely personalised experience for individual customers.
Whether this will be by offering more custom options, such as McDonald’s has with in-store devices that let customers ‘build’ their ideal meal, or by utilising data from online accounts to better meet an in-store customer’s needs, the possibilities are vast.
This personal, and personable, approach will be key to tackling the issue of poor customer loyalty in the retail landscape.
Collaboration will broaden horizons
A key theme for 2016 that is – off the back of some major success – set to continue.
Over the next year we’ll see more tie ups of the kind that have brought in new revenue streams and greater efficiency for the likes of the Post Office, WH Smith, Tesco and Arcadia.
As well as collaboration that looks to maximise footfall and in-store purchase opportunities, we’ll continue to see pure-play online retailers working with traditional bricks and mortar players to expand both parties’ reach.
Ultimately, teaming up helps retailers to improve what they’re delivering to their customers across a broader range of services – and to do so quickly, as it removes the need to start from scratch.
Convenience is still going to be king
If the digital revolution has made anything clear, it’s that consumers love convenience.
This will, in 2017, affect how retailers approach store design and development.
We can expect to see hospitality integrating more with the retail sector, and the growth in the number of destinations where consumers can not only shop but also dine and travel from a single spot.
Grand Central Station in Birmingham is a good early example of where this has proved successful, with the three elements co-existing seamlessly.
Retailers will look to make the most of their locations, to see what else they can offer customers and make the whole experience more convenient.
The shop floor will get a facelift
While self-checkouts and variations on that format have brought some change to retail stores over recent years, the way we shop instore remains largely unchanged.
Loading and unloading shopping baskets or trollies, scanning items, repacking them – these are all familiar aspects that have been around for years.
Amazon’s checkout-free Go concept, which is expected to roll out this year, is just one example of how technology will flip the shopfront’s script.
Retailers have an amazing opportunity to embrace the kinds of innovation that will match customers’ sky-high expectations – and ultimately set them apart from the competition.
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