With a new year comes change. New consumer behaviour and demands form new trends and, consequently, require new tools and technologies to be incorporated. New opportunities for those retailers bold enough to make the leap.
To help you understand what to expect and how these changes may affect your business, we put together the 6 top trends for 2017.
What’s driving the change?
Consumer demands have constantly adapted since the first time our distant ancestors took money in exchange for some goods. As we humans have evolved, so have our demands. In recent years, however, it’s the advancement in technology usage by Millennials – those aged roughly 16-25 – that have started a ‘domino effect’ that is already profoundly shaping the consumer retail experience.
But we can’t blame everything on the youth of today. Us people in the next generation block (26-40 years old) have embraced this young exuberance and started to adopt it ourselves. Our lives may not be as totally tech-immersed and on-demand as theirs (because we still remember a time pre-internet), but we aren’t far behind.
And that is what has retailers concerned. Both age groups together suddenly form a big percentage of the retail spending power – and the way they (we) wield that power is already driving the way retailers think about consumers and create shopping experiences.
1. AI and Chatbots
Our first trend has had a great deal of hype for several years, but during 2016 the tech has started to catch up with several of Silicon Valley’s finest all making new announcements. This leads us to think that 2017 will see it come into our everyday shopping experiences.
Artificial Intelligence is now starting to deliver on its promise and has now developed to the stage where brands are developing bots that give consumer assistance. Likely you’ll know about Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, IBM’s Watson, and the latest addition, Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger, which went live in April this year. Google, too, announced its assistant service at Google I/O 2016.
TechCrunch have noted this trend, saying that Chatbots have suddenly become the biggest thing in tech, explaining that they promise to: “Unlock the ability to provide personalised, interactive communication akin to talking to a human customer service or sales rep, but at scale for much cheaper than call centres”
An example of a chatbot application based on the API Facebook has built into Messenger is this service from the Hyatt hotel group who also use Zingle, a non-AI messaging solution from a start-up, that seeks to combine messaging from multiple sources including Facebook and Twitter.
Google has tried to take a more holistic view with their Google Assistant technology announced earlier this year. Google describes these services as: “The assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theatre.”
Google’s approach, as normal, is to try and use their tech to make the whole experience easier, quicker and seamless.
2. Virtual Reality
Shifting sideways from Artificial Intelligence to the artificial experiences of Virtual Reality, it’s interesting that the consumer hasn’t, up until now, understood VR as a shopping experience. A gaming experience or a TV experience, yes, but not for shopping.
However, Virgin Holidays have changed that this year. They are boosting sales to key destinations with augmented reality in store. All shot in the first person, consumers can walk in to a store and ‘try before they buy’ by popping on the headsets and experiencing their holiday.
3. The Rise (and rise) of Social Shopping
Shopping has always been a social experience – it’s just that the gossiping has transferred from the workplace/ coffee shop / pub among a small group of friends to now happening online with an audience of potentially millions.
Customers are talking about products and services in highly visible places all over the internet, and these conversations are playing a role in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Shoppers aren’t just stumbling into user-generated content about products and services; they’re actively seeking it out and making it an indispensable part of their purchase process.
In fact, according to the Google ZMOT report, 70% of consumers research online before purchasing in-store. That’s huge – and still growing rapidly. Too huge for retailers to just sit back and hope that their customers create positive word-of-mouth content for them. They should play an active role in its creation – and make sure it is put right in the path of consumers who are considering purchases.
4. Even More Mobile
Another one from the ‘over-hyped for years’ list, mobile is showing strong signs that the real-world usage is catching up with the undisputed potential, thanks to the rise of Millennials.
The long-promised benefits of mobile retail have evolved and strengthened to become much more relevant to both consumers and retailers as the early hiccups and glitches quickly become memories.
Retailer strategies incorporating mobile devices are becoming much more sophisticated and honed for smooth integration into the overall customer experience.
5. Brick ‘n’ Mortar Stores Will Get Smarter
The physical store retail format will continue to evolve into smarter environments through 2017. Brands will continue to learn how to truly incorporate technology to create a connected store – not just for the ‘concept of it’, but with the benefit of the consumer at the heart of design.
Tying in with the chatbots and Guided Selling tools mentioned earlier, store associates will be even more empowered with a personalised understanding of customers (what they want, what they like, what they have bought, what they have browsed, etc.), giving them the opportunity to make the buying experience much better. Similarly, warehouse logistics teams will be more in sync with real-time, in-store demands.
6. Omni-Channel Stores
The physical store is becoming a powerful, experiential space where consumers can immerse themselves in the experience of the brand. Consequently, stores should convey a powerful brand story through every touchpoint, providing lots of opportunities for positive product experiences, as well as access to your experts, added-value services and loyalty tools.
If the customer experience is designed well, your store can be the most powerful form of media at your disposal.
This means providing exceptional content, decision-making tools and commerce software, so that anyone exposed to that media could confidently browse and buy from you wherever and whenever they like.
Consumers are already tuning into some elements of the kind of shopping experiences they want (or think they want), even if they don’t yet know how it takes shape as an end-to-end experience.
We are already seeing that shoppers are increasingly and actively seeking information they need to make confident purchase decisions, even if that means they aren’t getting it from the retailers themselves. They shop on their own terms via the devices they choose at the times they want from the locations that are most appealing. This may make life difficult for retailers as they must interpret the ‘wish list’ of these shoppers and choose the right experience strategy, whilst innovating themselves at the same time.
But we can break it down into something much simpler: consumers are spending more time researching and validating their decisions both before and after purchase.
Retailers that can help people do that will find loyal, engaged consumers waiting for them – consumers who will follow through on purchases, spend more, and even spread their message for them.
What we do know for 2017 is that, once again, retailers are forced to adapt to meet consumer demands and expectations to stay ahead of the competition.