[This article was originally published in the January issue of Off-Price Magazine.]
Just because the calendar flips from 2016 to 2017, it doesn’t mean the retail industry gets to start the New Year with a clean slate. Five trends emerged in 2016 that will continue to shape apparel retail in 2017 – and beyond.
Mobile is bigger than sliced bread
The most important trend carrying over from 2016 will be the continued exponential growth of mobile shopping, proven most recently over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. Shoppers are increasingly more comfortable shopping on mobile devices. Mobile is more than the new ‘front door of the store.’ For apparel retailers, mobile bridges physical and digital channels, and it underscores the importance of converging all channels and touchpoints into a single, seamless, branded shopping experience. Mobile is not only the key to reducing friction in the shopping journey, but it’s essential for personalization. The industry made marked improvements in mobile related to ‘click-and-collect,’ but retailers without more comprehensive mobile engagement strategies for 2017 will be left behind.
Discounters rule with contemporary fashion
Another resounding trend from the past year is the growth of off-price discounters like TJ Maxx, primarily through strong engagement with the millennial market. Off-price’s appeal is rooted in inventories of current fashions, not styles from previous seasons. These timely, contemporary and relevant styles and fashions attract traffic, ring the register and create brand loyalty. In 2017, merchandise assortment will continue to differentiate off-price discounters from branded outlet stores.
IoT makes a difference
The Internet of Things (IoT) began to truly gain traction in 2016, creating the ‘smart store’ of today and the near-term future. It’s more than just shopper-facing technologies like smart mirrors and the like, although in-store guest Wi-Fi has become the de facto ante into the brick-and-mortar store game; shoppers demand their connectivity, and their mobile use has dictated an industry response. Stores are now integrating IoT sensors and systems throughout their entire ecosystem, particularly the supply chain. These sensors enable them to harvest data and develop actionable insights to help eliminate friction in the shopping journey, from fitting rooms to order fulfillment; from checkout queues to personalized shopper/sales associate interactions. Recent reception and reaction to Amazon Go only reinforces the industry’s need to continuously improve upon the retail shopping experience.
Earned content lifts off
A trend very specific to apparel retail is the growing importance of earned content, or consumers’ own user-generated content. This drives not only brand awareness, but also sales across a variety of social networking platforms, particularly Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. Retailers will continue to invest in social media initiatives, all aimed at better engaging, listening and curating content. The best-in-class initiatives will dovetail nicely into more comprehensive mobile engagement strategies (see above).
Brands will continue to drive increased direct-to-consumer strategies across the entire omnichannel ecosystem, including physical stores. Department stores continue to struggle, as they simply have too much real estate – in total and per location – for today’s new retailing. To break away from the ‘sea of sameness’ and to better control their own identity, brands will intensify their own direct-to-consumer efforts across all channels, and look for pop-up shops and other flexible physical channel activations to become more and more popular.
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