If crystal balls could really tell the future, every retail marketer would have one. In the retail industry, anticipating future trends is an essential skill (even if it is maybe more to do with luck than good judgement in a lot of cases).
However, as we know, fortune tellers have a patchy record when it comes to customer desires. So what can online retailers do to prepare for 2019’s ups and downs?
If you understand general industry trends, you’ll be in a much better position to thrive. So we’ve put together a quick guide to what retail marketers need to know as the year gets into gear.
1. The internet of things is coming of age
The IoT has been trailed for a long time as a revolutionary technology, and 2019 could see it come of age in a retail environment.
You might have picked up on Amazon’s retail expansion in the USA – a great example of how the IoT is making big strides in the way we shop.
Amazon Go has done away with cashiers, using apps to automatically charge Amazon accounts instead. Stores like Zippin also use weight sensors in every product to monitor what customers are purchasing, lessening the need for surveillance cameras and staff.
At the same time, IoT shopping has spread to the home, with tools like Amazon Dash buttons making it easy to restock detergents, ice cream, or shower gel.
All of this is bound to spread, making shopping faster and more efficient. But it’s also likely to result in an engagement gap as shoppers feel less connected to the stores they visit. And that leads us onto another key development in the retail industry.
2. Customer experience is everything
Bricks and mortar retailers are radically changing the way they interact with customers. Traditional stores are now becoming sites for “customer experiences”, not just the marketing of products.
Take SpaceNK, for example: the UK-based beauty store has upgraded its in-store services, with complimentary makeovers helping customers to appreciate the benefits of their products before handing over any cash.
Similarly, the cosmetics giant Estee Lauder has introduced virtual makeup apps in all of its UK locations. Customers can take snaps of their faces and see what 30 different shades would look like on their lips. It’s a radical new way to sell, where customers feel in control.
3. AI and cognitive technology is overhauling customer service
Big data has been making waves in online retailing for a few years now – allowing sellers to understand changes in markets and calibrate their stock levels with pinpoint precision. But now, AI is starting to have a similar influence.
The key tech here is known as “cognitive computing”, a form of AI which interrogates huge amounts of customer-corporate interaction, drawing out insights into how customers think.
These insights can be used in-store (in the form of robots) or online (in help portals or live chat). Simple queries can be handled by automated bots, while systems can quickly understand when human input is needed to resolve customer issues. This saves time and delivers better customer outcomes: a win-win situation.
4. Branded content is becoming vitally important
Another trend that we’ve picked up on from our clients is the importance of branded content marketing. Retailers are struggling to promote their identities in a crowded marketplace, and they are reaching out to expert content writers, videographers, graphic designers, and musicians to help them out.
Branded content is a form of storytelling which pushes salesmanship into the background and foregrounds creativity and emotion. It’s a smart play for the social media age, where customers want to engage with brands on a human level and be listened to as equals.
At greatcontent, we know how storytelling interacts with customer experience and in-store technology. As tech develops, and companies fight to engage the imagination of customers, we’re here to help.
Text: Sam Urquhart