With stalwarts of the retail world such as Toys ‘R’ Us and BHS closing their doors for the final time, along with a number of high street retailers including Agent Provocateur and Jaeger going into administration, it’s clear that retailers need to adapt in order to stay relevant in an increasingly volatile market. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the emerging trends that retailers need to embrace if they want to survive and thrive in 2018.

Creating an experience

With consumer shifts towards ecommerce vs brick-and-mortar stores, it’s important retailers invest in their physical store experiences if they want to attract evermore selective shoppers. A great case study is the use of the Japanese firm SoftBank’s robot ‘Pepper’ within the retail space. Gone are the days when you are met in-store by teenagers on their phones, with little concept of customer service. You can now expect to be greeted by Pepper the robot, who will gladly answer any questions you may have. Not only that, Pepper has flashy lights, can blast out tunes as well as bust a move and can even capture a selfie whilst doing it.

So far Pepper is being trialled in a number of stores, from California to Singapore. What’s fascinating is that some stores have seen a 70% increase in foot traffic, as well as a three-fold increase in revenue. Clearly if stores can make shopping an experience for their customers, the results will pay dividends.

Getting into bed together

With growing competition, some high street retailers have forged mutually beneficial strategic partnerships, allowing them to reach new markets or increase their distribution. One example of this is M&S’s sale of co-branded Wasabi products within their Foodhall, which is being trialled across 5 stores. This move will help them fend off increasing competition from the likes of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, who already offer a fresh sushi counter in a number of stores.

By partnering, retailers can maintain market share, react to emerging trends and ensure their customer offering is as diverse as possible.

The rise of AI and automation

As is true of many industries, the rise of artificial intelligence and automated tech is changing the digital landscape. If harnessed correctly, the technology has the potential to personalise the shopping experience and open up new revenue streams through recommended products.

One retailer that has successfully implemented AI is American beauty brand Sephora. Creating their Visual Artist app, they allowed customers to “try on” products simply by uploading a photo of themselves. Through augmented reality, consumers can apply different products and shades without having to leave the comfort of their sofa. With Amazon having just opened their first cashierless shop in Seattle, and trailblazing brands such as ASOS, Spotify and Google all investing their big bucks in AI, it’s clear that we’ll see much more of this in the future.

Crypto-mania

You’d have had to be living under a rock not to have caught wind of the cryptocurrency frenzy that’s sweeping the world. Whilst the value of currencies such as Bitcoin are fluctuating wildly day-to-day, and there’s still uncertainty of how they may be utilised in the future, retail brands are already trying to tap into them, even if only as a publicity stunt.

This month saw both KFC and Kodak announce their respective forays into the crypto market, with KFC launching a limited edition Bitcoin Bucket available to purchase using, you guessed it… Bitcoin, and Kodak launched its very own cryptocurrency called KodakCoin, allowing photographers to license work on their platform.

Whilst these two announcements certainly feel like gimmicks, the results speak for themselves – the bucket sold out immediately and went viral across social media, whilst shares in Kodak tripled in value. Although it feels too early to predict how other retailers (or indeed anyone) may use cryptocurrency, it’s certainly one to watch.

So at Underscore we think it’s safe to say that the only constant within the many worlds of retail is change… but ‘twas ever thus. The digital influences will only increase and become more mainstream in the year ahead and these will pose a threat to all of those bricks and mortar retailers whose locations offer very little by way of experience.

To find out how you can harness the latest trends to strengthen your business, get in touch at hello@underscore.co.uk

References:
https://www.clickz.com/five-ways-fashion-brands-are-using-ai-for-personalization/112558/
http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php
https://www.recode.net/2017/1/4/14171436/softbank-robot-pepper-sales-brick-and-mortar-retail-ces
http://www.marketing-interactive.com/kfc-canada-thinks-outside-the-bucket-introduces-bitcoin-bucket/