Retail predictions: retail therapy, gender stereotypes, meaningful friction

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Nikki Baird, VP Retail Innovation at Aptos, shares her predictions for the world of retail in 2020

  • Fast fashion is out. Green fashion is in

“Sustainability will move from a brand differentiator to a basic expectation. Consumers are constantly seeking more sustainable options in their lifestyles, from the food they eat to the way they travel to the clothes on their backs, and they expect to engage with companies who take the same care with their corporate responsibility initiatives.

“Shoppers are not just looking for “green and clean” products. They are looking for green and clean brands. This is more than just packaging or materials – or corporate sponsorship of green initiatives. This is about brands taking an active role in making the environment better.

“With the virality available through social media channels, it becomes easier than ever to spread outrage. Brands can no longer be caught in any wasteful practices – think luxury retailers burning clothes – without it coming at a social cost.

“So who is ahead of the trend? A first glance at H&M might suggest that the brand’s focus on fast fashion makes them vulnerable, but the company has actually been very active in getting ahead of this trend, with 57% of its products made from recycled or “sustainably sourced” materials and an active recycling initiative in its stores.

“Over the next year, it’s not going to be enough to have “initiatives” in order to be greener. Brands need to demonstrate true commitment to sustainability in order to win the hearts and minds of consumers.”

  • Retail therapy gets real with a focus on well-being

“The wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion a year, and it filters into every part of consumers’ lives: work, fitness, home and socialising. Consumers are increasingly focused on optimising or “life hacking” every aspect of their lives – from good sleep to healthy eating to mindfulness and meditation to healthy environments in their work and living spaces.

“As consumers shift from the conspicuous consumption of the past century to the increasingly important “conscious consumption” of this century, retailers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by how well they enable consumers in these objectives. This isn’t just about the retailers or brands that directly serve the wellness industry – any retailer has the opportunity to position itself as consumers’ life-hacking partner.

“Whether that’s fashion brands optimising consumers’ clothing choices, houseware brands helping consumers create their home sanctuaries or brands opening store locations that look more like “third spaces,” where consumers can hang out as they carefully consider which new products to buy, every retailer has an opportunity to recast itself as a wellness-enabler.”

  • Retailers break down gender stereotypes, embrace fluidity

“Look no further than the recent announcement that Adidas and Beyoncé will launch a gender-neutral clothing collection to know that the push for gender fluidity and awareness will continue to advance in 2020.

“The reality is this: Millennials and Gen Z’ers reject any form of being labelled or put in boxes – particularly by brands and advertisers. Traditional portrayals of femininity and masculinity, the latter of which is often defined as toxic, will be rejected with unmitigated scorn.

“When it comes to gender, retail is in the midst of a cultural shift. Traditional gender classifications need to be questioned and a rethink is required, from the products being sold to how products are marketed.

“Brands and retailers will win in 2020 by breaking out – and taking a stand against – gender stereotypes. This will be seen in much more diverse models in branding and advertising, a focus on creating new connections with underserved demographic niches (previously ignored due to gender bias), and the willingness to adopt a merchandise strategy that reflects a much more gender-fluid world.

“There will be breakout brands that thrive in this area in 2020 – brands that might’ve been embracing these philosophies all along but will now earn recognition and loyalty at public scale, as the push for gender fluidity reaches a tipping point.”

  • Retailers introduce meaningful friction to shopping journeys 

“In recent years, there has been a noticeable split in the market: Retailers either win on convenience or win by differentiation and delight. In the pursuit of convenience, there’s been no shortage of technology investment, from cashier less stores to delivery robots.

“But did these investments really capture the hearts, minds and, more importantly, wallets of the consumers that retailers were trying to win over? That’s debatable.

“As a result, in 2020 we’ll see more retailers focus on what it takes to “delight” the shopper – and it will require a clear shift away from previous attempts at convenient or “frictionless” retail.

“The thing with delighting customers is that you have to introduce some friction, at least at the beginning of the shopping journey. This meaningful or deliberate friction will serve as a way to break consumers out of the “autopilot” and mindlessness that comes with extreme convenience, even if it’s as simple as a Konmari checklist or another resource that encourages the shopper to stop and ask, “How will this purchase improve my life? Will this item bring me joy?”

“If retailers want consumers to feel really good about their purchases – and longer term, about their relationship with the brand or retailer – meaningful friction should be added to the purchase journey to trigger conscious consumption, and as a result, delight.

“Retailers aren’t going to win by getting consumers to buy a lot of stuff they then feel bad about. That might work in the short term, but in the long term, retailers who help consumers be more considerate in their purchases will win long-term loyalty.

“Pro tip: While meaningful friction has benefits early in the shopping process, once consumers decide to buy, then purchase and fulfilment should be as seamless as possible.”

  • Consumers – and retailers – start to feel the impact of 5G

“5G’s implementation is progressing at different rates in different countries, but it is increasingly available both as a network and through devices capable of accessing that network. The technology companies investing in 5G have tried to show the market just how much of an impact 5G will have on lives, but analogies just haven’t done the job. When consumers start to see the direct impact of 5G, it will change behaviour. It will change the way they consume information, by making far more information (like sensor-driven data) available at much higher speeds. Just writing about it doesn’t do it justice.

“Retailers will feel the impact too – both in terms of how consumer behaviour changes and in terms of how their own business operations may change. In-store technology, public Wi-Fi, consumer-retailer interactions both in stores and on the go … we’ve only been speculating so far. In 2020, we won’t have to speculate any longer, as we’ll start to see the impact directly. And there will definitely be an impact.”