Trends to Save Retail


It’s been a rocky start to 2019 for some brands within the retail sector. Some observers feel this is due to bad stock or not doing enough to lure the customers into stores, also citing digital as being an obstruction to success, specifically Amazon. The amount of times I’ve heard “Amazon is killing everything” … enough to be a millionaire perhaps?

From sales declining at M&S, to Debenhams’ collapse into administration, in all honesty, I’ve lost track. There are questions that run through the heart of all of these stories, the same questions I have every time – who is your customer, what do they want and why aren’t you focusing on them?

Perhaps it’s time we stopped blaming Amazon and looked at adjusting our own businesses in line with changing consumer demands in a fast-paced, technology-led world. Here, we share some of the most recent trends in the retail space that can be embraced by businesses today. (Note – you don’t necessarily need to be in retail to apply this, either).


Don’t stop checking what the consumer actually wants

It’s very easy to fall into the irrelevant pile by not refreshing what your brand stands for as consumer trends change the market. This means a regular 5-7 year investment in checking to ensure you are still relevant, including refreshing your brand strategy, brand design and core marketing messages. People who quaff at the expense of this tend to find that a slow investment decision here can be much more expensive further down the line. Short-termism can kill a business in the long-term. Your business is a living, breathing organisation that has to move with change.

Those who don’t move with the times will die off. Some of my biggest brand frustrations were losing my beloved childhood shops such as Toys R Us (why oh why didn’t they make it all about the experience?), and my pick-and-mix pit stop, Woolworths. I had these frustrations before Amazon had made any kind of significant inroads into the online e-commerce marketplace. Woolworths closed 813 stores in January 2009. One of their last annual reports declared that the company’s strengths were the home, family and entertainment. If I could teleport myself back to 2009 to stand on a high street corner asking shoppers what Woolworths stood for, I would put money on it not being any one of those things. Woolworths had the opportunity to conduct some solid research and position the company to respond to the trend changes happening around them, and at a time of recessional challenges, position themselves more strongly as a ‘value for money’ brand. However, after the collapse of Woolworths, Poundland – who offered a similar product line – bought most of their stores. The real kick in the teeth for Woolworths was that Poundland’s trading was good and reported profits of up 130%. So, why the difference? They had a strong brand message – ‘amazing value, every day’ – whereas Woolworths didn’t explicitly stand for anything. Moreover, communication of that message directly spoke to their target market: ‘everything for £1’. It’s simple, to-the-point and memorable.

The world doesn’t stop moving, and neither do we. Poundland mustn’t rest on their laurels. They need to think about future-proofing themselves, and consider whether or not they can retain the ‘pound’ benchmark as the world evolves.


Giving a s**t about more than profit

We all know millennials have strong views on corporate responsibility and social change. However, in recent years we’ve seen one major concern being shared across every age group: our impact on the environment. This is more than a trend – it’s a cultural shift. This is not going to go away.

I’m not talking about the company having a vegan day or introducing plastic free cutlery (though please take note all takeaway lunch eateries). A genuine, give-a-damn purpose is needed here. Brand purpose and values are exactly what is needed at the core of the business to then roll out across all aspects of the brand.

For example, I’m a fan of Toms, a shoe company based out of LA. I don’t own any of their footwear myself, but my husband proudly does. I am a fan of the brand, what they stand for and how the business has been executed. They began with a one-for-one initiative – you buy a pair of shoes and we’ll donate a pair to a school child in poverty-stricken areas where shoes are often a luxury they can’t afford. The business and its initiative have made a huge impact on the world by providing over 86 million pairs of new shoes to disadvantaged people. Aware of their initial mission, and wanting to ensure the longevity of the business, they have since expanded into helping areas beyond shoes – extending into a sub-brand for coffee which provides water, and sunglasses to provide sight. They have understood the principle of adapting without watering down the initial vision and have applied their give back purpose across all sub-brands. Although in my opinion there is room to strengthen this messaging through the creative application and marketing messages of the business, the social purpose remains strong and true.

Toms aren’t the only beloved retail brand that have a focus on environmental and social issues and that are able to connect to consumers via their purpose. Patagonia, The Body Shop, Lush Cosmetics and even Swedish homeware staple, IKEA, are all highly successful global brands who also champion wider issues.


Think omni-channel

Firstly, you might be thinking what does Omni-channel mean? Omni-channel is a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a bricks-and-mortar store.

A bricks-and-mortar store used to be the main entry point for customers with shop window displays being the main draw. Today, there are multiple touchpoints for the customer, so brands need to focus on ensuring they use the multichannel approach. Simply having one channel will be unlikely to help sales grow. If you are a smaller retailer, pay heed to the first trend mentioned earlier – make sure you understand your target customer first. BigCommerce’s 2018 Omni-Channel Retail Report found that only 11.8% of Gen-Z shops on Facebook, while nearly 25% of Baby Boomers shop on the social platform. Millennials, meanwhile, prefer to buy products they discover on Instagram and Snapchat, so tailor your brand message to target the right groups across selected channels. If your customer base crosses a variety of age demographics then seek to streamline your presence and ensure that all channels offer the same great experience, right through to sales channels that travel from social media.


The need for speed

The world is growing more impatient and a slow experience can block sales.

Have you ever gone to buy something and your card doesn’t go through due to a website glitch, or the process is slow and won’t allow you to sync Apple Pay or autofill the address fields? Maybe you’ve got to the end of checkout and get put off by shipping times, or you’ve realised the returns policy is more hassle than it’s worth? All of this leads to a no sale. New technologies are allowing retailers to offer exceptional brand-buying experiences, allowing all brands to match other retailers – such as Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping as standard. Ensure that your experience is speedy, be it via bricks-and-mortar, or online. A long queue at the till can lose a shopper just as easily as a convoluted online checkout experience can.

Growing, maintaining and developing your brand can sometimes feel like a constant challenge. But it’s a necessary one. Watching out for trends, technology and cultural shifts will help ensure that you stay relevant in today’s competitive market and put growth firmly on your agenda.