The Future of Retail: 5 Important Trends to Watch Out For

The retail landscape is in constant flux. Consumers are perpetually evolving, new technologies continue to emerge, and there are always players who are working to disrupt the industry. To help you keep up with these developments, Vend has put together their 2019 edition of their Retail Trends and Predictions Report, a roundup of their top 12 forecasts for the retail industry.

This post will outline some of the most noteworthy trends affecting the UK high street and offer recommendations on how you can keep up.

1. You’ll need to invest more in your workforce

The need for driven and competent in-store associates is higher than ever. Consumers today are not only more more knowledgeable, they also expect higher levels of service when they’re shopping in retail stores.

As such, it’s no longer enough that associates know how to sell or can memorise your product catalogue. They need to be able to relate to shoppers in compelling and memorable ways, by being experts and trusted consultants. And doing that requires recruiting the right people and investing in retail training and development.

So in 2019, make it a point to improve the knowledge and skills of your retail staff. Go beyond teaching them about your products or store; instead, see to it that they’re certifiable industry experts, who can not only read and serve customers well, but can make a lasting impression.

2. AI will continue to benefit retailers

Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to make waves in retail, with solution providers increasingly introducing AI into their platforms.

Vend, for example, has Dott, an AI-powered retail assistant that gives retailers personalised advice based on their POS data. Dott learns about a merchant’s business by understanding how they use the Vend Platform and by analysing sales, product, customer and inventory information in real-time. It then makes personalised suggestions on what they should do next to grow the business.

On the customer-facing side of things, AI technologies are getting better at powering chatbots. Developments in natural language processing and machine learning are enabling retailers to deploy chatbots that are smart enough to answer basic customer questions or provide information such as order tracking, business hours, and more.

If you haven’t done so yet, start exploring how AI can help your business. If you’re already using retail software, revisit their features and see if your solution provider has made any updates in the AI department.

Perhaps your retail management system can now make better recommendations on how you can improve. Or maybe your retail analytics platform is smart enough to automatically surface the data or insights you care about.

Whatever the case, artificial intelligence will continue to evolve and develop, so you’ll want to see how it help your business sooner rather than later.

3. Back office systems will be front and center for many

Back office retail initiatives may not get as much press as “sexier” trends like AI or bots, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore your backend operations.

From optimising your inventory management to ensuring that your systems are tightly integrated, continuously investing in your back office solutions will allow you stay competitive in 2019 and beyond.

The “right investment will vary from one business to the next. If you’re unsure of how you can improve your back office or what to do first, you can start by identifying manual tasks or workarounds. What are your most cumbersome processors? Which tasks are slowing down your operations or are hindering you from serving your customers better?

For instance, if you’re still using spreadsheets and clipboards to manage your inventory, then you’ll want to look into modern inventory management systems to streamline your stock control.

Or, if you’re selling both online and offline, but are still manually reconciling the data between the two platforms, then it’s time to integrate your online and offline channels so you can run an omnichannel operation.

The bottom line? Don’t wait until you’re struggling operationally to improve your back office. Do what you can today to identify backend issues and make necessary investments to take things to the next level.

4. Retailers who can provide compelling in-store experiences will flourish

In many ways, retail stores are no longer about “location, location, location”; they’re about “experience, experience, experience.”

With ecommerce covering the convenient side of shopping, modern consumers don’t visit physical shops simply because they want to buy something quickly and easily. They do it because they’re craving a shopping experience.

For some, a great retail experience means discovering a new product or finding an amazing deal. For others, it’s all about connecting with another human — whether it’s an associate, a like-minded shopper, or a friend. Then there are those who want to literally experience a product by testing it and trying it on.

The key is for you to figure out what drives people to your store. What experiences are your customers craving when they walk into your shop? Don’t just think about what they want to buy; also understand what people want to see, touch, and feel when they’re in your store.

Then once you have those insights, implement new in-store initiatives and see what resonates. Maybe you can start setting up testing stations for your products. Or perhaps your community would benefit from in-store events that bring people together.

Explore your options and see what works.

5. Retailers that are flexible with payments will win

Developments in mobile payments, banking, and POS systems will continue to drive innovation at the checkout counter, so it’s important to keep up and adopt the right solutions for your business.

It also helps to pay close attention to the payment habits and preference of today’s consumers. One trend that’s caught the attention of many retail players is the rise of buy-now-pay-later.

An increasingly popular alternative to layaways or lay-bys, buy-now-pay-later allows customers to buy in-store instantly, putting down a quarter of the cost and paying over four equal fortnightly instalments. It’s beneficial to shoppers because they’re able to take home their purchases instantly.

Retailers, on the other hand, won’t have to worry about the costs, logistics, and space to house layaway inventory.

In the coming months, expect these new and more flexible payment services to emerge, and get ready to adopt them once you see your customers asking for them.

By our great friends at Vend.

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