by Steve Wilson

How is it possible to keep up with all of the retail trends in today’s market? It’s especially difficult when we look to those that failed to change who have gone the way of the dinosaur. We have seen many large retailers disappear or go bankrupt in the last year, like Sears, Toys-R-Us, Rockport, Brookstone, Claire’s, Nine West, and HH Gregg. In fact, several reports show there were more than a dozen that filed for bankruptcy in 2018, making 2018 a year where retailers who did not keep up fell behind dramatically.

A little backstory

I have been working in the retail industry for more than 30 years now. I remember many national powerhouse retail chains who now, not many have heard of. Retail has always been fast-moving and unforgiving, and in these last five to 10 years, the retail trend changes required to stay on top are heftier. Along with a huge shift to online research, browsing, and shopping in general, Amazon has caused the expectation of the average retail customer—meaning YOU, the shopper—to shift rapidly. We’ve switched from imagining what could be possible to immediately expecting it.

To share a specific example, the first time I purchased something online from a retailer, it delivered to my house, I wanted to return that item to the store, but couldn’t. Needless to say, I was frustrated since my immediate expectation was that I should be able to buy online and return to the physical store. Most retailers have figured this out by now, but just a few years ago, they hadn’t; And all too often, the deals online didn’t match the deals in the store, and returns represented a distinct and utterly different business model. However, as a customer, I couldn’t care less. I imagined that’s how it should work, and expected it to be that way.  Once other retailers started to figure it out, I switched my shopping habits and left behind the ones that couldn’t adapt. Sounds familiar right?

Familiar, yes. But, let’s look deeper.

Having worked with many major U.S. retailers directly and indirectly over the years, I can tell you that it isn’t easy to make changes quickly and seamlessly. They have huge structures, embedded technologies and just like most large business, they don’t make decisions hastily. So, how is it that retail moves fast although retailers move slowly. The answer lies in the products, the promotions, and the brands.

Mobile phone carriers, for instance, are constantly rolling out promotions for their plans. Computer manufacturers measure the life of one of their products in weeks, not months. And, new brands are popping up every day, innovating and stealing market share from their larger, more prominent counterparts. In fact, because of the ease of entry into e-tail, major brands fall under massive pressure to adapt as these smaller brands roll out their new and innovative ideas—new products, new ways to engage customers, and easier paths to purchase. 

Okay, what else?

Consider Warby Parker. They’ve created both a product line and shopping model that have disrupted both traditional glasses retailers and the largest eyeglass brand in the world, Luxottica. All this to say, the trends in online shopping, social media, and customer engagement innovations during the buying journey have allowed lesser-known brands to become thorns in the sides of well-known retailers. Many are small and nimble and can quickly adapt processes and technologies, so big brands have to make adjustments now, or they will see their market share erode. 

To add to the mix, shoppers are changing. Millennials are moving into their prime buying power as a generation, and generation Z is right behind them. Research shows that both groups are less likely to be loyal to brands than their predecessors; so, as a result, the innovative online retailer or brick-and-mortar retailer now becomes the more appealing choice for shoppers and their elevated expectations.

Now, brands are on high alert to innovate and revolutionize as soon as possible to combat these ever-changing expectations. Such innovations include their name, logo, brand image, locations, online/social presence, in-store experience, technology, and so on. Again, big-box retailers bear a huge burden to adapt, and with such easy access and entry to the market, the walls have come down that used to protect them. On the flip side, large online retailers like Google and Amazon continue to innovate themselves, learning to adjust swiftly and adapt smoothly, by making major acquisitions and partnerships in order to meet customers’ needs as they arise. 

Though they operate largely in-store, Walmart, Kroger, and Target are all changing the way they do business to stay relevant by testing automation, experimenting with buy online and pick up in-store, and through omni-like shopping techniques. Even these major retailers’ pace of change has increased to keep up, meaning all the vendors, brands, partners, and service providers have to not only keep up with online retailers but also with the brick-and-mortar retailers.

Now you know!

So, how do you keep up with all the changes in retail trends? The key is experience. Figure out what your current customer expectations are and meet those needs first. That’s the secret to keep up with retail trends—getting the right information to the right customer at the right time. Next, having flexibility at the C-Suite level to adjust budgets quickly, providing the critical investments that will allow businesses to outperform competitors, is crucial.

And lastly, fail fast and be ready to learn from failure. Be selective in which innovations are the most important, invest in those, quickly learn from challenges, and adjust your strategies accordingly. Strategy and innovation are becoming “table steaks” for businesses. With the speed of technology affecting everything in retail (and let’s face it, everything, everywhere), businesses that are open to learning, can create a vision, can adapt quickly, and can implement and operate plans effectively will be those that win year after year. If you want to discuss how MarketSource can help you solve some of your biggest challenges and be fully prepared to meet the ever-changing needs of your consumers, contact us today.

Topic: Retail

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Wilson is Executive Director, Retail Practice Leader for MarketSource, Inc. He has 23 years of experience in designing, implementing, directing and operating retail programs focused on driving customer experience and sales. His wealth of experience in partnering with major brands and retailers has helped them achieve their goals. Steve champions MarketSource’s proprietary REPfirst workforce collaboration platform that unifies self-scheduling, timekeeping, predictive analytics, compliance, training and other tasks into a single solution.

At MarketSource, an Allegis Group company, we believe better sales begin with better relationships. Our proven alternative to traditional outsourced sales is led by a proprietary process that helps businesses thrive by fostering deeper connections between people and brands.