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What’s next for retail? Retail Trends to Watch in 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported on how the biggest retailer of all, Walmart, was positioning itself for the coming decade. CEO Doug McMillon is still high on “growing through supercenters,” but among the novel new tactics to leverage its reach and nurture new markets isn’t clothing or foods, but retail cloud services — “edge” computing. Imagine decentralized cloud computing running every few miles out of a warehouse, a rooftop or even a vehicle. That’s edge, and it’s particularly important for AI and autonomous vehicles.

Leveraging the physical scale of Walmart’s operation, the built space sprinkled across the nation, for retail cloud services is easy to imagine.

Edge computing is one of our eight 2020 Retail Trends that IT specialists and business leaders should watch. It joins this short list of digital trends in retail:

  • Technology service for customer experience (CX)
  • Wirelessness everywhere
  • “Return bars”
  • “Retailtainment”
  • Products as-a-service
  • Authentic marketing
  • Dynamic planograms

#1 CX and Technology

National Retail Federation Vice President Susan Reda wrote in December, “Trend-watching experts say Wi-Fi and battery life have officially taken their place on a ‘revised’ version of Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs.”

She was being “droll yet direct” about how consumers are turning to their personal digital devices, even on the store floor. Retailers can take two cues from this. The first is to fully integrate the online and in-store shopping experience —

  • Making it easy to “scan” an item in-store and find it online (say, if my size isn’t available in-store)
  • Telling a customer exactly where to find an online item in-store (“in-stock on aisle 3”).

The second is to offer (and promote) super-fast WiFi for customers, even charging stations, in the stores.

Not only is WiFi increasingly expected in merchant spaces (no longer just coffee shops), but it can be leveraged in authentic marketing (#6). Among 2020 retail trends this one has the most steam already behind it.

#2 Wirelessness Everywhere

The earth is flat. It’s an expression meant to convey how easily connected we are with faraway economies and cultures (and not at all to be confused with flat-earthers). 5G and fixed wireless broadband is flattening the earth, speeding ample, high-speed bandwidth across the nation’s cities and towns. What does that mean for advanced retail technology?

 

Nielsen, the research firm associated with TV show ratings, says 5G and wireless “will further democratize point-of-sale systems and mobile commerce.” Faster wireless internet and advancements in mobile pay will only accelerate consumers’ self-directed shopping. Advanced retail technology has already made it possible for sales associates to step out from behind the sales counter and onto the floor to be closer to customers as they shop, but look out! Those same handheld point-of-sale devices have eased the way for new merchants in the marketplace (think pop-up shops).

About 6 in 10 shoppers, according to Nielsen, are already using or willing to use a mobile wallet to speed up payment and avoid carrying cash. 

#3 “Return bars”

One of the best publicized 2019 retail events was the partnership Amazon struck with Kohl’s. The brick-and-mortar now offers easy return of any Amazon product at its customer service counter.

 

Less publicized was the expansion of Happy Returns, a leading provider of return systems and solutions for retailers, which announced a self-service return kiosk branded for a retailer and powered by Happy Returns’ software and reverse logistics. It’s the RedBox for ecommerce returns, and it’s a 2020 retail trend for the decade because it’s made regrets much less fearsome.

#4 “Retailtainment”

Experience retail.

Customers will expect more engaging experiences with brands and stores. This retail business trend is surging irrespective of technology. 

No longer an endpoint, physical retail locations play a role in sales online

China has become a proving grounds for the “new retail” model SCMP recently pointed out. “Retailtainment” SmarterCX.com called it — the merging of buying, entertainment, and engagement happening both physically and online.

From emerging technologies such as augmented reality to in-store “launches” for big new products, retailers are becoming their own marketing and event planners.

Still, despite the ripple effects of making an online or virtual splash, consumers crave touch and are far less likely to be disappointed with a live shopping experience than one exclusively online.

#5 Rented clothes and subscription makeup

In April NPR aired a story that showcased Steven Johnson, a gainfully employed 27-year-old Hollywood social media advertiser who lives at PodShare and rents everything — his bed, his transportation, his clothes, even his workspace. "When you don't own things, you don't have to keep track of them. You just show up,” he said.

From beauty boxes to Rent the Runway, whole categories of retail trends in 2020 fall into rental and subscription-based commerce, and it’s not for clients’ lack of means. According to a report from data analytics firm GlobalData, the rental subscription market was valued at around $1 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow more than 20% a year, reaching $2.5 billion by 2023 

#6 Authentic Marketing

Americans aren’t becoming less fashionable, but they are perhaps less moved by Big Fashion brands and labels. Like venture capitalists, they want an authentic breakthrough. A retailer’s marketing should pay off for them. 

Expect the retail business trend of microtargeting to build deeper relationships with a customer (through consumers’ digital choices) to climb, says a popular marketing and PR maven. Your owned digital spaces should answer questions about your customers’ likes and dislikes, gather real quotes, and foster authentic, meaningful engagement. Savvy brand marketers will use chatbots and other consumer insights to springboard innovation and inspiration for developing products and services.

Meanwhile, expect more “Brandstanding.” That’s consumers’ desire to live out their values and beliefs in the world by seeking out brands’ stance on social issues. This is a corollary of the retail business trend toward authentic marketing.

#7 Dynamic Planograms

A planogram is “a diagram or model that indicates the placement of retail products on shelves in order to maximize sales.” Well-produced planogram or space management software have the capacity to increase sales as they decrease supply chain and store costs. Depending on the retailer’s stock, this is one of the most enticing digital trends in retail, and increasingly, midsize and small retailers are seeking out digital planogram platforms as-a-service.

#8 Edge Computing

Latency, also known as “lag” or “ping,” is the reaction time of your connection. When the technology in play is self-driving cars (or VR/AR and gaming), you can see how low-low latency is critically important. One way to shave latency is to move the servers doing the computation in close to the user. This is edge computing, and it feels a little bit like the reverse of the “cloud migration” that disrupted life in general over the past decade. However, it’s not the reverse, necessarily. It’s still the cloud — just lots of mini-clouds located closer to users, making bandwidth-intensive and latency-sensitive applications a cost-effective reality in more brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Edge computing is hot and should get hotter, says one channel observer, Telecompetitor. Physical stores can maintain a competitive edge with the help of digital aids and strategies, specifically the internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality, and edge computing will fuel it.

 Imagine shopping floors fitted with augmented reality mirrors that can show shoppers in different clothing without their physically trying them on, or backroom technology such as RFID and smart shelving systems that automate inventory tracking and tone the supply chain. 

Retail Trends, 2020s

Ecommerce and disruptive technology has felt at odds with traditional retail, but the 2020s will be a decade when its promise — for customers, merchants and staff — materializes. 

Big-bandwidth connectivity is what powers many of the in-store retail trends emerging in 2020. Whatever the size of your retail operation, a reliable internet connection, such as Kinetic Business’s Fiber Internet with speeds all the way up to 1 gig, will enable guest WiFi connections, modern PoS systems and mobile payment acceptance at the most basic end, while providing the scalability to support more retail IoT down the road.