The retail industry has seen the greatest changes in recent years with the rise of social media and smartphones. No longer can they guarantee people will simply walk into a store and buy their merchandise. Nor can they be certain that loyal customers will remain so regardless of prices on offer. So how can retailers keep up with the latest consumer trends?
A look back at consumers
The behaviour of consumers has been the drive behind most of the changes we have seen in recent years. Not only have their habits changed but their attitudes have also altered. With the growth of the internet and the smartphone, consumers have become used to having a far greater amount of choice than ever before. They are no longer reliant on local stores or the odd trip into the big city centres for special occasions – they can find almost anything they want on the internet.
Added to this is the ease that people now use a smartphone to check out their purchases. A friend mentions a new range of clothes they love while having coffee – the modern consumer pulls out their smartphone, searches for the shop or brand and looks at it, there and then. And if they like what they see, they order immediately and the shopping could be on the way to them before they have finished their coffee date.
The importance of physical stores
However, studies have also shown that many people use the internet to do research, to study their purchases but still go out to the high street to make the purchase. There are also social factors affecting business – people still buy from people and often, they want to speak to someone when making decisions and have a real response, not just a computerised one.
Then there’s the fun of going to the shops – many of us still meet friends or family for shopping trips and enjoy wandering around the store, seeing what is there. While we might look for a new TV online and read up on specs and reviews, we are also more likely to buy clothes in a shop – or at least go to the store to look and feel the items. Only if the required size or colour isn’t available in store would the smartphone come into the process.
Keeping up with trends
There’s a saying that ‘trends become opportunities’ and this remains the case for retailers. By looking at the trends in retail, businesses can better predict what their customers will want in the near future and move into a position to fulfil that requirement. Online shops are an example of a past trend that has made a massive different – and brands that were slow to create online stores suffered or didn’t survive.
Another example is a big trend predicted for this year was the growth of different payment options and the contactless card payment system. More retailers are now offering these options in-store to cater for the consumers growing expectation that a smartphone is also a payment method.
Click and collect has also been a big trend this year that was predicated around twelve months ago. This pairs the online shopping world with the physical store, allowing customers to order online and have the items sent to a store of their choice for collection. This saves time, ensures the products that they want are available and allow them to collect items where is convenient. Often, these shoppers may buy other items when in the store collecting their order.
While there are lots of ideas about what trends will come and what will be the next big thing, retailing management often want something a little firmer to base their goals for the next year onto. With the online world, this prediction comes from analytics and now, increasingly, physical stores can access similar types of data.
Imagine being able to track a customer around a store, see where they go, what they look at and where they don’t visit. Imagine pairing this data with basics about the customer – gender, if they have children, time and date of visit. And imagine all of this being done in a legitimate way that doesn’t infringe data protection laws.
This is what customer analytics is now offering to stores in a similar way to online analytics offers to the online world. New systems allow the collection of anonymous data smartphones collected through their connection to Wi-Fi hotspots through the shop. This collects data on the person’s movements, time spent in locations and more advanced systems can even detect products that are moved by that person. But the data isn’t personalised and doesn’t contain names, addresses or other sensitive data.
Understanding what customers want
These types of systems can be paired with other existing systems to help give customers what they want. Loyalty schemes have been around for a long time but can now be paired with information on what customers buy to provide them with offers that are relevant to them. There’s no point sending a dog owner with no kids vouchers for pet food or nappies – instead you want to send them offers for their favourite dog food or perhaps their favoured type of alcohol.
The combination of information collected in-store and online can also help to create a profile of what the consumer wants. Personalisation is a big trend in retail, allowing people to feel as if a brand cares about them, knows them and takes notice of what they want. As this continues to become the normal approach for businesses, retail store can ensure that customers are offered this new high standard.
Moving with trends can be risky if they don’t come to pass but by combining trends information with hard customer data from online and off-line, retailers can make the right choices. These systems can also add information to help with staff management and ensure that the customer service offered is the best possible, further reinforcing the appeal of the high street store for consumers.