We hear a great deal about how modern consumers, and the whole retail landscape, are changing. Expert predictions about the latest trends, and how they will play out in the coming years, are a dime a dozen. As a retailer, it can sometimes feel like you’re navigating a minefield. There are so many things you could do to attract, retain and impress customers, but will they all pay off?
Beyond the headlines, what is clear is that retail continues to transform and reinvent itself, like it has always done. And consumers want retailers to keep up with the major trends. At the same time, they also want many of the same old things.
US retail research firm JLL recently surveyed 1,500 US consumers on their expectations of retailers and what really matters to them. The result wasn’t magic mirrors or robot sales clerks. More than anything, they want skilled customer service, personalization and convenience.
That doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t want to be surprised and delighted. And it surely doesn’t mean that tech is useless. The same report found that consumers want to shop in stores with fresh, new concepts; they want to be entertained; they prioritize health and wellness; they want a frictionless retail experience; and they are more conscious of their impact on the environment, which reflects in their shopping habits. To capture consumers’ attention, then, retailers must demonstrate that they have their finger on the pulse, and are diligent about perfecting the experiences they deliver.
Here are five ways you can keep your brand current and on trend, and appeal to what your customers really want:
The modern consumer cares about the social and environmental impact of their purchasing and consumption. Forrester’s Consumer Technographics data reveals that nearly seven in ten US Millennials, and more than five out of ten consumers in general, consider a corporation’s values and commitment to social and environmental sustainability when making a purchase.
If until this point you’ve decided to sidestep the sustainability conversation, now is the time to establish your point of view and take action. Values-based consumers are just growing in number, and they will reward brands that enable them to consume in a more environmental and sustainable manner. Here are some ideas to kick-start your sustainability strategy:
- Explore different delivery options: super quick delivery is environmentally damaging, and it is not a priority for all consumers. You could give shoppers the choice of claiming extra loyalty points or receiving a discount code if they’re willing to wait a few extra days for delivery. This would allow you to ship the item on an ecologically efficient route and schedule, with lower emissions and less waste.
- Reduce your packaging and use recycled/recyclable materials: the days of extravagant packaging are over. Consumers prefer the back-to-basics approach. With many alternatives to single-use plastic packaging, you can investigate recycled cardboard and paper options, or even organic material packaging using cornstarch, mushrooms and seaweed.
- Stock items from eco-brands and products made from sustainable materials: footwear brands Allbirds and Veja have gone viral over their use of natural over synthetic fibers, appealing to fashion and ethically conscious consumers. Veja’s trainers use organic cotton and Amazonian wild rubber. The brand recently brought out a vegan sneaker that is fully biodegradable, made entirely from waxed canvas.
Think about design-led, “instagrammable” store concepts
It may sound like a gimmick, but incorporating fun, photo-friendly moments can attract customers and build brand awareness. Social media platform Instagram confirmed that more than half of its users have discovered new products while using the social app.
Beauty brand and retailer Glossier has created “instagrammable” stores that are all about fulfilling their consumers’ quest for the perfect selfie. Its New York flagship store features pink walls, a red quartz staircase, and cylindrical podiums filled with products to encourage customers to snap and share photos as they shop. Reports say that the showroom generated more revenue per square foot than the average Apple store.
This trend is not just about building Instagram worthy locations, though. It’s about creating memorable experiences that tap into your target audience’s interests. Do it right, and you could become far more than just an overnight internet sensation.
Help customers feel good
Modern consumers highly value wellness, a term used to describe mental, physical and emotional health, and they want this to be reflected in their shopping experiences too. JLL’s survey found that 41% of shoppers want to see open spaces with lawns or greenery in shopping centers, and over a third want to shop at stores with healthy food options.
There are many ways retailers can approach this trend. When US outdoor retailer L.L. Bean launched its “Be an Outsider” campaign, it also built an outdoor co-working area in New York City’s Madison Square Park to promote health and wellness, encouraging consumers to live a healthy outdoor lifestyle. High-end department store Saks has created a luxury wellness area in the store, where customers can receive salt therapy, attend fitness classes and even get weight loss treatments. In the UK, department store Debenham’s has opened gyms inside some of its store locations in partnership with fitness operator SWEAT!
Although friends’ and family’s opinions are still important when it comes to product recommendations, consumer communities are becoming more influential, Forrester points out. Shoppers are increasingly inclined to lean on a wider community of like-minded people, where they can tap into a brand’s customer knowledge base and converse and engage with peers. As a result, retailers and brands have been building their own social communities – both physical, through in-store events, and online.
Exercise bikes brand Peloton is a great example. While exercise bikes have been around for many years, customers are willing to pay a premium for a Peloton bike because it offers so much more than just the product itself. “It is the integration between the bike, content, and importantly, unlocking personal and social competition that is where their secret sauce is brewed,” Forbes said. Customers become part of a community and can take part in live classes, compete against people from all over the world, and join challenges.
Another example is Levi’s 247 app, which promises to give customers access to exclusive offers and unforgettable experiences. User are rewarded coins for living and breathing the Levi’s lifestyle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Members can earn coins in several ways – by making a purchase, but also by sharing cool places that they think other Levi’s members would enjoy, checking in at Levi’s stores and events, visiting checkpoints recommended by other Levi’s customers, and taking part in challenges. The result is a naturally grown community of like-minded individuals.
Get involved in the shared products and services trend
Part of the increased interest in sustainability is a growing demand for shared products and services. JLL’s survey found that over half of consumers are willing to rent trendy, well-made products, and more than 70% are willing to partake in the sharing economy – a concept popularized by rental home service provider Airbnb and ridesharing business Uber.
In the retail sector, companies like Rent the Runway, Chic by Choice and Girl Meets Dress have risen to prominence with their rent-a-dress models, making it possible for consumers to wear the latest expensive clothing items without spending a significant amount of money. But more sectors than just fashion and apparel are ripe for this trend. Indeed, one-fifth of all shoppers said they are most willing to rent goods from an electronics store. As the concept of renting goods becomes more common, retailers in different industries can capitalize on this by experimenting with their own sharing services. From home improvement and DIY tools, to baby products, to sports equipment, there are many opportunities in the market – it’s up to businesses to grab them timely.
Ultimately, retailers who can anticipate change and get on board with lasting consumer trends will be the ones who stand the best chance of success. To do this, start by looking at your own customer base and focus on what they want. Once you know this, you can introduce exciting new concepts that marry up with their desires, and in the process refine customer service, personalization and convenience.
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