Retail Trends of 2016

Shelley E. Kohan
Shelley E. Kohan
Vice President of Retail Consulting

Shoppers are continuing to dictate change in the retail industry, and their behaviors are establishing trends that all retailers need to recognize and adapt to in order to succeed, thrive and prosper.

The impact of retail’s digital channel advancements in the past few years has delivered a loud and clear call to action for the brick-and-mortar side of the business, whose leaders have repeatedly struggled to become as agile and nimble as their innovative channel cousins.

And, as much as the reference to retail in the past has been specific to the sectors of the business, the retail landscape has vastly changed over the past decade, and now lines are blurred between wholesale, retail and the formats that lie within both of those business models.

Wholesale brands are learning from retail experts and, at the same time, retailers are learning from brand experts. As a result, the vision has never been so blurred, yet at the same time is so very clear, as all retail formats and brands are promising the same value proposition for 2016:

Collaboration with key stakeholders and some rather unlikely business partners will shape the shopper experience and drive sales from 2016 and beyond.

The one constant in retail is its dynamic, ever-changing nature, and my list of retail trends of 2016 offers the opportunity for brands to deepen their shopper relationships, heighten sales associate engagement and deliver better, more meaningful shopping experiences.

  1. Product & Price Transparency. Shoppers have a plethora of information and digital access, allowing for the deepest of dives on product information and going beyond the life-cycle stages of a product and into the environmental and community impact. This conscious approach to buying is even more important to Generation Z, who will have less time and patience for brands that are not fulfilling their “emotional” and “engagement” buckets. Examples include quick, real-time information about what or how a product is made, the ingredients or fibers used, sustainability rating, country of origin and the “grand citizenship” that the brand demonstrates to the consumer. These factors can be shown via a QR code, through the IoT or illustrated through digital channels. 
  2. Collaboration with unexpected partners will continue to grow throughout the retail industry. Competitive strategies of the future include creating partnerships that deliver a better, more holistic shopping experience and drive revenue growth. Big, well-know brands (Goliaths), who in the past were never afraid of small, lesser-known brands (Davids), now seek out the Davids to partner or fund. Integrating with new business partners and interacting consistently with the stakeholders of the brand gives retailers the best opportunities to connect and delight customers with shopping experiences that are relevant.
  3. Experiential shopping initiatives center around the ability to add the “plus” to products with some type of experience or interaction. Today’s retailers need to offer more than trading money for product. Customization allows for product and interaction to merge, resulting in high shopper engagement. The same goes with community ecosystems that provide another level to the product purchase. As the brand ethos is so embedded in the product, the customer becomes the brand manager, and experience plus product matters more than the individual product.
  4. Mobile as a conduit between digital and physical channels. Mobile technologies have the agility, power and speed to act as a catalyst for the two most coveted factors for today’s shoppers – quick and convenient. Mobile saves time, helps remove pain points in the shopping journey, and improves service. Examples include mobile payments, “buy buttons” on social media, click-and-collect options and QR codes for product information. Most importantly, mobile-friendly platforms allow for continuous connection across channels and touchpoints.
  5. Real-time visibility of shopper metrics. Online retail has long enjoyed a wealth of real-time metrics to help it shape the delivery of desired shopping experiences. The technology now exists for the brick-and-mortar channel to do the very same. Fundamentals start with the establishment of key performance indicators and then grow to real-time metrics that align with shoppers’ most pressing priorities, allowing retailers to rethink and reimagine the “exceptional shopping experience.”

Some previous trends still hang around

While 2016 is ushering in new trends to shape the retail landscape, a handful of trends from previous years are hanging around and continuing to influence, including:

  • Service-centered focus: processes, infrastructures and systems live behind the scenes but produce painless and frictionless shopping which shoppers may not see or hear, but nonetheless experience with pleasure
  • Format redux revised: store counts and store footprints continue to get smaller, and organizational structures become more flat.
  • Knowledge deficiency gap: shoppers come to market armed with more brand and product knowledge than sales associates.
  • Personalization: the real time connection with the shopper that makes product development part of her shopping process.
  • Value-driven dominance: Value lies in the eye of the shopper, and now it includes time and convenience, and retailers who can expedite shopping for those in great need are creating great value.

There you have it. Shoppers are continuing to dictate change in the retail industry, and their behaviors are establishing trends that all retailers need to recognize and adapt to in order to succeed, thrive and prosper. New emerging trends – coupled with those trends continuing from previous years – are creating exciting new opportunities for those retailers agile and flexible enough to be responsive.

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