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What Does the Future Hold for Retailers in 2018?

What does the future hold for retailers in 2018?

This week, over 7,000 people representing the world’s top retail brands and technologies gathered in Las Vegas to answer this question and more as part of the third annual Shoptalk conference.

The event has quickly become the largest conference for retailer and commerce innovation and, with that reputation, this year’s speakers and sessions did not disappoint. From the CEOs of emerging brands like Glossier and Allbirds, to heavy hitters from brands like Nike, Google, and Sephora, attendees left with a wealth of knowledge to adopt and trends to keep their eyes on in the year to come.

Below, we’ve highlighted a few takeaways that top retail strategists and executives shared at the event about the changing customer journey, personalization, and bringing the digital world offline.

“It doesn’t matter what brands say anymore.”

Glossier’s founder and CEO, Emily Weiss explained why she believes her brand gained so much footing, so fast: they listened.

The three-year-old beauty brand was started by then-beauty-blogger, Emily Weiss, who saw that beauty brands were missing an important conversation modern customers were having about the beauty industry: the fact it wasn’t meeting their needs.

“Beauty is an experience, and people have become obsessed with sharing their products, ideas, and solutions,” said Emily Weiss, “…But beauty brands were lagging behind when it came to actualizing this feedback and involving their customer in their brand.”

And with the knowledge of avid beauty fans on her side, Weiss was able to build a company that is already a household name and a brand whose mantra is, “To empower customers to share their knowledge with other customers.” Clearly, this strategy has worked, with 80 percent of Glossier customers coming to know the brand via peer-to-peer recommendation.

 

Weiss’ quote above speaks volumes. The industry is trending towards customer-centricity and it’s up to brands to truly listen, not just make their customers feel heard, in order to succeed.

“Consumers are curious, impatient, and demanding…”

The end of that quote is, “… and they are saying to brands: understand me better,” said Daniel Alegre, President for Retail & Shopping at Google.

While Weiss spoke about listening to the customer and their sentiments, Alegre shared data points about shifting consumer behavior online and offline.

Google, arguably one of the most powerful companies in retail, has a wealth of data behind consumer shopping behavior that supports the need for the customer to be at the center of a brand’s retail strategy.

Alegre noted that consumer curiosity for even the most mundane items has increased. Just a few years ago, Google had data that supported shoppers doing research for higher-impact items like computers, cell phones, televisions, etc. These days, the modern consumer spends just as much time doing research for lower impact items like olive oil, umbrellas, and travel pillows.

Not only are consumers smarter and seeking more knowledge than ever before, but they are also looking for brands to meet them where they are, both literally and figuratively. The proliferation of the mobile phone has increased the need for brands to be smarter and more available than ever precedented.

 

With customers finding inspiration and purchase moments across a series of devices and locations, data will be the backbone for any brand hoping to find success. According to Alegre, this year the following happened:

  • 2x increase in same day shipping searches
  • 150% increase in ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ travel searches
  • 3x increase in ‘open now’ searches

Proving, yes, that consumers are curious, impatient, and demanding, but also that brands have to be ready to deliver the experience they are looking for, where they are and when they need it.

While some areas are improving, like connecting the customer journey on and offline, there are still issues that the industry still needs to solve. Currently, Alegre says, it takes an average 140 taps for the customer to input payment information, so the next frontier will be streamlining payments for consumers to make shopping more frictionless.

While there will always be areas for improvement, Google’s call to action for brands this year is to invest in data to ensure more seamless and truly omni-channel buying experiences for customers.

“We are focused on beauty being theirs to define, and ours to celebrate.”

Whether or not you’re a beauty brand, this sentiment from Sephora’s EVP of Omni Retail, Mary Beth Laughton, should ring true: be open to letting consumers define your brand, and then celebrate their perspective.

Sephora uses a carefully-balanced technology stack to not only highlight their customers but also to connect them to one another to share feedback, the good and the bad.

Laughton explained that Sephora believes that transparency: highlighting positive and negative, yet always authentic, user-generated content, as well as personalization: creating omni-channel experiences through machine-learning, geo-fencing, and emerging technology like AR/VR, are the two reasons the brand has such a loyal and engaged customer base.

By combining state-of-the-art technology with authentic consumer behavior, Sephora is able to provide its customers personalized product recommendations, relevant content they trust, and the experience they crave when and where they need it.

“When you take the channel out of the equation and put the consumer at the center, everything will fall into place. Once we made that shift, it really unlocked success,” said Laughton.

Ultimately, brands and consumers want the same thing: to be able to have an easy, personalized experience and purchase desired products. For brands, the challenge is how to serve the customer better through more frictionless buying experiences.

At Shoptalk, and beyond, brands are having this conversation daily, and now that this type of technology is available across channels, the brands that innovate and deploy truly connected, authentic experiences are the ones likely to thrive.

What will your brand do to unlock success in retail this year?

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