In 2016, retail marketers faced a mercurial sales environment. Many whole-heartedly embraced technology, seeing it as the savior of retailing. They armed themselves with the latest wired wonders and smartphone apps, and boldly digitized consumer-brand interaction. It could be said that those brands that displayed technical innovation won the race. And that would be true, if the race were for dollars only.
It is quite possible that these “visionaries” got it wrong. In 2016, some tech-happy retailers missed the most important innovation in decades: the relationship-craving, fully-evolved and empowered shopper.
Never before had she wielded such power. She is digitally fluent and well equipped. She creates her own content and demands that brands pay attention. She trusts her ability to make the right buying decisions.
In 2017, the shopper will become even more formidable.
This is not a bad thing; far from it. Retail marketers should appreciate a shopper who knows what she wants, one who is eager to make her desires known. She wants to participate in a dialogue. And isn’t talking the first step to building a relationship?
That shopper-brand relationship – building it, nurturing it, appreciating it – is critical, and will be the prime driver of retail marketing in 2017.
This year, the shopper will seek even more meaningful interactions with the brands she loves. She wants to be understood, entertained and respected. She wants to be heard. And she wants the brand to care enough to give her a satisfying, self-affirming, personalized experience. We call that heightened experience the Shopper Moment.
It is that interaction – the emotional and memorable Shopper Moment – that should serve as the touchstone for marketers in 2017. The answer doesn’t lie in newer devices, bigger data and more finely-tuned algorithms. These are tools; certainly critical to success, but merely conduits. Ideally, consumer-facing retail technology should exist mainly to facilitate the relationship between shopper and brand.
Retail marketers must understand the revised role of digital technology, and in 2017, should filter all programs through the lens of the shopper, with an unwavering eye towards creating satisfying Shopper Moments.
The most important trends we see for 2017 reflect the “shopper first” mentality.
So will the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality. Retail marketers must take these potential-filled technologies and use them not as “bells and whistles,” but as tools in the service of delivering authentic experiences. “Authentic virtual realities” may sound oxymoronic, but only if one is focusing on the “how” rather than the “what.” In 2017, it is what retail marketers do with these digital tools that will matter. AR and VR are not new to the shopper. Their mere existence is no longer relevant.
Smart marketers will put a little less focus on the “augmented” and “virtual,” choosing instead to emphasize the “reality.” This means using the technology to create immersive and responsive shopping interactions, rather than gimmicky helmets. It goes beyond pretending to see through the newest ski goggles, to a place where shoppers can find themselves on the slopes, giving the equipment a “test drive.”
The IoT holds great potential for the marketer. A study by McKinsey found that the uses of IoT in retail could have an economic impact of $410 billion to $1.2 trillion per year in 2025. The challenge is presenting the IoT to shoppers in ways they immediately understand – and appreciate.
The Amazon Dash button comes to mind. Smart and easy to use, Dash promised CPGs literally at the touch of a finger. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, however, that while Dash continued to expand by adding more brands and products to the long list of items that can be ordered via buttons installed in the homes of Amazon Prime members, it turned out that most customers rarely or never use them. (Reasons range from forgetfulness to the idea that Dash is an attempt to disconnect shoppers from the amount of money they’re spending.)
This year we will see pioneering retailers backing out of the home a bit, and using connected devices to streamline in-store shopping and communication with shoppers. As McKinsey points out, a few examples of IoT include merchants using in-store devices to automatically ring up customers, track real-time shopping behaviors and send tailored offers to customers triggered by the shopper’s interactions with displays and product.
A major goal for retailers in 2017 will be developing more tightly bound relationships with the shopper. That means always being wherever she is, ready and open for business.
Over the past few years, we have seen tighter integration between physical and digital shopping experiences. Retail became a 360-degree experience, friction-free and mobile.
In 2017, retail will be borderless.
Shoppers demand consistent experience across platforms and settings. And that experience is expected to be as close to flawless as possible. Borderless retail is the convergence of all the shopper’s brand touch points, and creating that will be a challenge for many retailers in the coming year. Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet, may have laid the master plan out most eloquently: “Treat media as the store, and the store as media.”
We’ve seen some brands take steps to engage in both the physical and the digital worlds. Many online brands – including Birchbox, Bonobos and Casper – have opened terrestrial stores. Some 61% of shoppers surveyed by Forrester Research said they still value interacting with store associates and asking them for advice – one of many ways that stores become outlets for online loyalists to have a deeper level of engagement with a company, its products, employees, and fellow shoppers.
Successful borderless retail also includes robust mobile programs. And email campaigns. And return policies. And loyalty programs. And social media personalities. And content creation and sponsorships with Netflix and Hulu. If any one of these is out of alignment, a border is raised and a customer is lost.
This consistency is difficult to achieve; many retailers continue to struggle with the challenge of creating and maintaining borderless retail experiences. What will it take? Smarter brick-and-mortar stores. Real-time mobile engagement. Expedient online interactions. Solutions to cross-platform browsing abandonment and inventory control challenges. Most important, borderless retail Nirvana will be achieved only when retailers evolve their working model from silos and functional departments to intra-disciplinary teams. The buyers and the marketers and the designers and the money guys all need to be in the same room at the same time.
Big Data – a term for the analysis of the massive quantity of consumer data generated every day – has helped retailers make smarter decisions. The amount of information gathered is a staggering collection of figures and stats and projections that have turned market research on its head. In 2017, however, retail marketers should look at the softer side of Big Data.
In keeping with the “people first, technology second” edict of 2017, retailers should examine the qualitative information gathered with as much fervor as they give the numbers. In that Big Data reside insights about human behavior and desire. Retailers need to know why a shopper does something in addition to when and where. Because our new shopper demands that you do.
Retailers have learned that pop-up is a powerful and ever-evolving tool. In 2017, expect the concept of pop-up to literally and figuratively transform.
Once upon a time, pop-up was a way for retailers to move extra merchandise. It was a tactic. Today, pop-up is nothing less than a lifestyle (and a marketing mix must). (It is no longer relegated to retail. In the coming months, expect to see pop-up bars, zoos, skate parks, salons and yoga classes.
Pop-up speaks to the seekers. To the mavens. To the experience junkies and the memory makers. It can be a destination, a respite, an exclusive club or a playground. And know that Pop-up is no longer the sole property of retail. In the coming months, expect to see competition from other industries, unveiling their own pop-up bars, zoos, skate parks, salons, yoga classes and knitting circles. Regardless of form (and there really are no limits), a successful retail pop-up in 2017 will be truly meaningful to its visitors.
The best pop-ups of the coming year will employ emotive storytelling to connect shoppers to brands. Consider the pop-up a showcase for Shopper Moments. Amaze her with design, wow her with new ideas, allow her to be the first, give her something to share. In 2017, the real test of a retail marketer’s creativity and ingenuity will be the pop-up.
Expect to see pop-up used as a way for a brand to explore a new niche or test a new audience. Provocative brand partnering will also be big; we will see multiple brands “under the same tent,” sharing space and audiences in fresh and unexpected ways.
Real time marketing will be a major force in 2017. Shoppers want to be in the moment while in the store. Live-action shopper engagement will prove itself to be a new and exciting way for brick-and-mortar establishments to enhance the in-person experience.
Using tools like Facebook Live, Snap, Whatsapp and YouTube Live, marketers can ask or answer questions, share a timely how-to video, provide product and sale updates, seek reviews or just chat. Like friends do.
Empowering the shopper to instigate a real-time interaction will soon be a solid way for a brand to demonstrate honesty, show respect and enhance a relationship.