Trends, tech and the future of retail with Insider Trends

Looking back is almost as important as looking forward. That’s why we asked Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends, to walk us through some of the most exciting recent developments in retail and share what she’s most looking forward to in 2017 and the years to come.

What were some of the biggest retail trends in 2016?

Well, for one, the mainstream realized that physical shopping is not going away. We are not anywhere near done with it, but the role of the store is going to change and there needs to be improvement in the experience of the physical store.

The really big trend was omnichannel, and it still is.

How so?

The retailers that have been investing in omnichannel solutions are now able to know everything that goes on in their entire eco system. With this knowledge, they can make much smarter decisions.

As an example, in 2016 we’ve started seeing brands like IKEA and Target open more accessible micro retail spaces, which is made possible by their rich omnichannel eco systems.

The core nuts and bolts are falling into place for many brands, but omnichannel is very much a journey. It can always be made better.

Where do we see omnichannel going in 2017?

There’s been a lot of work with creating just one profile for the customer, personalizing all brand communications towards that person. It’s finally coming together in a really sophisticated way, so hopefully we’ll see some of these systems in store soon.

How are consumer behavior and needs shaping retail developments?

Customer expectations are being set by the experiences that they’re having across the board. With Uber, for example, you have one of the best user experiences. You just book something with the press of a button, and at the end of the journey you just get out. And it’s very affordable.

So why can’t I just press a button and search local inventory when I urgently need to buy some printing paper? That kind of idea and the fact that you have to walk around the store trying to find someone to ask for help and queue up at the end of it all is out of date.

But really, this is just one of two sides to customer expectations.

What’s the other side?

Humans don’t really change at all, and neither do human needs. That’s why we are seeing a number of stores and brands starting to connect to customers on a human level, using technology to offer rich experiences in stores.

For example, at this year’s National Retail Federation Convention & EXPO in New York there were so many stands demonstrating mobile points of sale. The assistant has it on their person the whole time, so you can both interact with and purchase directly from them. You don’t have to queue like a robot anymore.

I like this idea of technology bringing the human side to shopping.

What are some brands that stand out in taking these factors into account?

Nike now has a store in New York that looks just like a normal store, but it now has multiple sports experience areas. You can just go in and play sports! If you have a Nike+ account – which is free – you can unlock certain experiences in store, and you can also get a personal shopper or a “personal trainer”. Once you identify yourself at the store, they’ll have all this information to make a personalized and great shopping experience for you.

It’s not creepy, because there’s value in it for the customer. And that’s an important thing. Retailers need to understand and serve the customer well, but you really have to show them why and gain their trust. Customers are happy to share when they get value in return.

Which innovations are making waves into the new year?

CloudTags is one of our favorite businesses, and their tech is being used in more and more stores. It helps link up the online and offline shopping experience by using smart tags, sensors and devices for retailers.

A lot of retailers do also seem very excited by Virtual Reality, and there’s a lot of great things being done with it. Visa has presented this great VR function where you point a laser to which of two gigs you’d like to go to, then get a view of the stadium to see the seating available. In VR, you’ll be able to put yourself in different seats to see what you’d see on the night, and if you’re happy with the view you will be able to purchase the tickets with your voice, thanks to voice recognition technology.                                                 

2017 has already started – what developments will really break through this year?

The big one is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things, like analytics, RFID and data feeds of weather and local events. The combination in part gives retailers full visibility of what’s going on in the eco system. If you have your store and supply chain covered on every level, all of that shifts from being a senseless system to behaving more like a computer that comes up with the right answer at all times. 

How will this take form?

Apart from robots being taken seriously in stores to do stock check and find requested items, there are a few interesting new developments in the back-end of retail. At the NRF convention there were people using AI to recommend the best store layouts, and where to position stores and popups. Those suggestions can increase turnover by 5-7%! You could even put on a VR headset to walk into the AI’s model of the store to get a feel for it, and interact with the digital environment. 

What other technological developments will be pushing the retail landscape further in the years to come?

Blockchain is the thing I’m most interested in. It’s what Bitcoin was built on, and it’s essentially a ledger where records update automatically and become available to either the public or any two parties. A lot of administrative work can be done by the system itself. And once something is in the Blockchain, it can’t be changed.

If I’m a retailer and I’ve received all the items ordered, as soon as this is checked an automatic payment could be sent to the supplier. All that information from further down in the supply chain can then be brought up. Or say there’s a supermarket that has an outbreak of salmonella. The Blockchain will enable them to see where that specific food came from and gain control of the situation fast.

Blockchan is a really simple way of consolidating data, and it’s both great for the retailer and for transparency towards the customer. I’m looking forward to seeing retailers wake up to its potential.

Cate Trotter is the Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency. Visit the Insider Trends website here.