As we’ve seen throughout this past year, consumer shopping patterns and behaviors have undergone a fundamental shift as technology and social media have created new avenues of distribution and access. Consumers are savvier, more quickly decisive and also have ever-higher expectations around retailer responsiveness and product personalization.Shoppers have readily opened up their pocketbooks during this holiday season, with technology contributing greatly at every stage of the shopping journey — both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Retail in 2018 was driven by speed, technology and constant evolution.
Over the next year the accelerated pace of innovation will continue — from the reinvention of brick-and-mortar, to novel brand partnerships, to humans partnering harmoniously with their robot colleagues.
What can retailers expect in 2019? Here are a few of my predictions:
1. Brick-And-Mortar: The Comeback Story
The narrative of brick-and-mortar retail has read like a doomsday novel over the past few years. There have been a record number of doors closing across the industry in recent years. 2019, however, will see a major rebound in the offline prospects for brands that think “outside the box store.” As forward-thinking brands are already showing, stores have the capacity to be incredible brand building spaces. With a smaller store footprint and more curated offerings aimed at a targeted audience, Nordstrom Local is a great example, demonstrating seamless integration of conveniences and commerce. With more thoughtfully crafted spaces reimagining in-store retail(e.g. Foot Locker’s new flagship stores in NYC and Macy’s recent purchase of Story), 2019 will see brands reclaim more consumer mindshare and traffic back into physical retail. As Brick and Mortar Part Deux unfolds, we will see creative incarnations of the real-world shopping experience emerge, including more augmented reality and increased blending of the digital and physical realms, beyond just ordering online and picking up in-store, as offered by Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond.
2. David And Goliath Partnerships Rule The World
In 2019, consumers will be surprised and delighted by unique collaborations between small, fast-growing brands and more traditional large retailers. As smaller brands look to reach new customers and traditional retailers seek to bring novelty to their existing customers, we can expect many more “David and Goliath” partnerships in 2019 than we saw this year. Like the music collaborations between Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett or DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper and Quavo, innovative retail partnerships will pave the way for exciting collaborations that will transform the retail landscape. Collaborations such as Target with Harry’s have created buzz around commodity purchases. Nordstrom’s Pop-In@Nordstrom concept — featuring temporary shops for digitally native brands like Everlane, goop, and Casper — deliver the cool factor while driving urgency among consumers. Whether you are an up-and-coming brand or a traditional powerhouse in the industry, there will be opportunities for growth through partnerships in the New Year.
3. Bot Or Not? Robots Are Everyone’s New Co-Workers
Fear not the robot apocalypse. The industrial robotics market is expected to grow by 175% over the next decade, and already onboarding robots to the workforce has become more common over the past year. But don’t worry — the sci-fi plot some fear is not what retail reality will look like.
Rather, robots will augment the work of their human counterparts, making it less taxing and enabling people to perform the high-value tasks that machines can’t or shouldn’t. Some back-of-house and front-of-house jobs will be augmented by robots as early as this coming year. Amazon, for one, continues to make huge investments in robots to make warehousing more efficient. Walmart is getting in on the robot action, with shelf-scanning robots to assess in-stock and out-of-stock items, along with testing a new robotics system, Alphabot, to speed up the fulfillment of customers’ online grocery orders. In 2019, a vast array of retailers will take a test-and-learn approach to robotics and software-based automation — including artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics — as they look to lower costs, increase operational efficiencies and gain a competitive edge in the market.
Next year will present us with the cutting edge of a Cambrian explosion of change in the retail industry, driven by customer-centric strategies aimed at fulfilling consumer demands for hyper-personalized service and instant gratification. We’re definitely at an inflection point — the shift in relationships among retailers, producers and consumers that will transform the retail landscape as we know it. As brands continue their digital transformation and move toward more customer-focused strategies, they must be bold and decisive if they want to gain and maintain competitive advantage.
Matt Field is the president and co-founder of MakerSights, a merchandise optimization platform for modern retail. Drawing from his extensive background in both retail and technology, Field is helping to transform the way brands develop and bring to market new products by combining voice of the customer software and predictive analytics. Through the MakerSights platform, leading apparel, accessories, footwear and home brands are able to de-risk their most important product decisions, making more of the products their customers want and driving greater speed and profitability across their businesses. Outside of MakerSights, Field serves as an advisor to American Express and its Digital Advisory Board, assisting senior leadership to develop and execute innovative products, campaigns and services to drive customer acquisition and retention. He also serves as a board member to Swipecast — a discovery engine and marketplace for critical services supporting the fashion industry.