Retail Trends in 2015

The retail industry is evolving rapidly thanks to new technologies focused on helping retailers unify their physical and digital environments. Such unification presents a more seamless shopping experience, boosting customer satisfaction and sales. But sometimes adopting new technologies can be overwhelming, especially to boutique and smaller businesses, as retailers try to navigate the growing landscape of emerging, disruptive trends.
So what are the hottest trends today in retail? The ones that retailers absolutely cannot ignore if they want to stay competitive? Here are a few that are relevant to retailers regardless of the vertical they're in:
  • Unified commerce. There was a time once when the novelty of e-commerce loomed over brick-and-mortar stores like a dark cloud. But times have changed and consumers have demonstrated that they want to shop where they want, when they want, and how they want.  The smartest retailers have figured out that to win they need to unify the shopping experience across all channels - whether physical or digital. The convergence of e-commerce and brick and mortar continues  – e-commerce is no longer replacing stores, so much as complementing them. The challenge for retailers is to deliver a unified commerce experience, to keep a consistent look and feel, brand, and customer service experience. This is getting easier with technologies that allow retailers to track inventory across stores and online, connect more closely with customers on the store floor while they're perusing the website, and more. In the j, 93 percent of retailers stated that they intend to adopt a unified commerce model, with 39 percent already implementing supply chain solutions to support it.
  • Mobile. You can't deliver a unified commerce experience without first considering the explosion of mobile growth and its ever-evolving role in retail. Mobile isn't only for advertising – consumers are increasingly using it to "preshop," find deals and price compare. Mobile continues to grow as the top customer engagement channel. Now that consumers are "always on," retailers can no longer ignore mobile, and many are taking a mobile-first approach to marketing and sales. Long gone are the days when mobile was an after-thought, especially as mobile's influence on in-store sales was $593 billion or 19 percent of all sales in store in 2013 (up from $159 billion in 2012), according to Deloitte. Thanksgiving 2014 was also a huge indication of how mobile is being embraced as a key focal point – not an afterthought – for shoppers.
  • Data, data, data. Retailers want more opportunities to touch the customer, influence them and provide great service. Customers want great service, but they also want it to be focused and efficient, with as little "wasted interaction" as possible. Actionable and easily consumable real-time data makes both of these possible through such things as targeted, intelligent product recommendations. Data at our fingertips is also facilitating distributed order management and online/offline inventory control in real time, as well as better focused marketing campaigns, mobile offers and timely discounts. Even retail marketing decisions are now driving the point of sale because the information we can glean is actionable and helps us understand what customers want – where, when and how. Data is changing the world of retail and we're at a pivotal point in the industry. Those who don't analyze daily doses of real-time data will lose, period. Excel sheets will no longer do.
  • Engagement marketing. Retailers can no longer ignore the need to engage customer and prospects where they already are. That is, in the past, advertising, direct mail and announcements pushed out through various forms of media and marketing could often suffice. But today, consumers expect to be pursued a little bit, and retailers need to know where their prospects "hang out." Consumers want to know more than ever that they are special, and they want information to be easily available and accessible. Retailers that implement loyalty programs and provide special services such as reminders, recommendations and contests are pulling customers in rather than just pushing messages out. Consumers often have the opportunity to participate in retailers' social marketing, providing ideas for ads, new products and more. Engaging customers in such a way makes them feel invested – almost like they're a part of the company itself. Investment = long-term loyalty.
  • Customer service. Customer service as a "trend" in and of itself may seem silly, as it has always been a big part of retail (obviously). We all know "the customer is right," and the "30 second greeting" rules. Today, customer service goes far beyond such measures and can often help smaller shops surpass the giants. Embrace new technologies that allow you to get more intimate with your customers both on the floor – replace counters with mobile POS, for example – and off. Create a more intimate atmosphere that plays on all of a shopper's senses – smell, sight, sound – and makes customers more comfortable in your shopping environment. Gone are the days of Muzak or the radio as our only in-store musical choices (try Pandora or Spotify). Consult interior designers who specialize in retail and understand the psyche of color and room flow. Customers have so many choices for where to shop that it's imperative to make customer service a soothing and memorable experience versus a loud and aggressive one. Don't forget to replicate a similar experience online – brand colors, flow, support and policies should all mirror the in-store experience as closely as possible.
  • Omnichannel inventory management. Gone are the days when a customer seeking something in a size you don't have has to leave empty handed. With omnichannel inventory management, retailers can ensure the customer gets what they want nearly every time.  The "buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere" value proposition of ominichannel is a bonus for consumers and retailers alike. For shoppers, the opportunity to always get what they want is appealing. For retailers, the ability to not overstock stores and right-size inventory is key.
  • Security. With the looming October 2015 deadline for retailers to comply with EMV regulations for credit and debit card payments, security is more than just a trend to heed. More than 50 percent of retailers are not yet fully prepared for the deadline, according to a new ACI Worldwide retailer survey. Invest in resources that can help you understand the threats, opportunities and challenges, and create a solid investment in payments security. The time and resources invested now can save you from a crisis later.
Without a doubt 2015 is a pivotal year for retailers. Those who keep up with the latest trends and innovate for the future will come out on top.

Gordon Russell is CEO of Springboard Retail, an retail solutions provider. 
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