The president is back in office, the hockey players are back on the rink, the mercury is back in the basement. And so dawns another year.
Let’s capitalize on the changing of the guard with a throw to some of the emerging trends that will shape the 2013 retail scene. Here’s seven of them:
• Less in-person shopping, more virtual shopping. A flurry of attempts to get them out to the stores at the close of last year notwithstanding, it seems consumers are resolute in their growing fondness for online commerce. The online retail market is now valued at $226 billion (and is estimated to rise to $327 billion by 2016), and traditional retailers resist the shift at their peril. Better to acquaint themselves with all the technical minutiae of the undeniably more consumer-friendly new wave, including the bevy of innovative technologies being introduced into stores, smartphone shopping and e-commerce apps.
• Increasingly competitive pricing. Because ruminating shoppers can consult their phones for instant and current data points on competitors’ prices, retailers are compelled to stay sharp here, and never assume that a consumer doesn’t have the immediate means to confirm that they could get a better deal down the street. A study by Pew Internet revealed that more than half of all adult cellphone users employ them to aid in-store purchasing decisions.
• Mobile shopping. This will be the year the smartphone becomes even more integral to the business of shopping, as people make more and more purchases by way of the thing. The retail infrastructure is responding with enhanced opportunities for electronic payment, price-comparison tools, virtual catalogues and the means to interface with e-commerce sites via mobile devices.
• Clever deployment of electronically amassed customer data. This year, the retail experience will be further improved by its principals’ attention to the usefulness of all the big data they’ve collected about their customers online. Think recommendation systems, trend-watching apps and all manner of technologically facilitated means of marrying consumer with heart’s desire.
• Retailers morphing into service providers. As small businesses use the Internet to compete with bigger ones, companies will increasingly represent themselves as purveyors of more than just widgets. So look for hardware stores who’ll send plumbers to your bathroom, and tech shops whose staffers can travel to you to address that MacBook glitch.
• More immersive in-store experiences. Retailers are getting better at integrating their online and physical channels, and this year may usher in a revised reality where customers are greeted by name when they enter a store, and are assisted by clerks who have consulted their online shopping history and so already know their style.
• Multitasking shops. The Rapha Cycling Club (in Osaka, San Francisco and London) is a store, yes, but it’s also a gathering place for cycling enthusiasts. And the new-concept Office Depot stores in Denver are also workspaces for itinerant businessfolk, who can plonk themselves in store and plug in their laptop or tablet, rent a computer for the afternoon, enjoy free wi-fi, drink gratis cups of Joe and — natch — employ touchscreen displays to order Office Depot products they can’t find on the shelves. Look for more of the same.