In an ocean of end-of-year lists here are 10 vital tasters of standout retail tactics, trends and innovations to back for a successful 2019 and beyond – ideas attuned to attitudinal shifts and opportunities for incubating innovation.
From the in-the-moment connections of live commerce, expo stores and the dawn of hyper realities destined to shift the axis and etiquette of storytelling, there’s also how brand broadcasting will revise the meaning and role of retail-tainment (including unlocking the affection of a generation enthralled by their new awokening), why drop culture is more than a fad and the fluid future of voice commerce. Additionally, see re-selling as a still-vital route to generation e-preneur; calming the unruly side of e-commerce; stepping into an economy of self-care and self spaces; and the vast and long-lasting impact of ethical and empathetic engagement strategies.
Live & Interactive E-Commerce
For a generation hungry for direct connections, hot tips and indifferent to what channel they’re shopping on, live and interactive commerce will become the most logical of ways to shop. Real-time retailing – offering the thrill of instant communication and the potential for group debate – will boom in value in 2019. The popularity of live chat is swelling (it’s anticipated to grow 87% in the next 12-18 months) and will be boosted by initiatives using artificial intelligence (AI) and/or bleeding retail into broadcasting to deliver a more personalized experience.
Consider US app Flip, a re-selling marketplace for sneaker obsessives that’s turning out live 90-minute auctions and beauty brand NYX’s augmented reality-powered (virtual trial facilitating) live-streaming app that connects shoppers with beauty boffins via live video chat to deliver real-time, bespoke tutorials from home. The beauty of this genre is its potential to make formerly soulless versions of on-demand retailing seem both personable and edifying, at scale. It will also help crack the barriers between off and online retail that have stunted omni-commerce – see British software businesses Hero and Go-Instore that are corralling sales by connecting at-home shoppers with in-store sales associates. Conversational, responsive and wise to emotional cues (via a sensitive use of AI) will be the main mantras.
That world of live commerce, built on appetite to mainline hot topics via direct connections, will galvanize stores that offer best-in-show product edits, emulating the once hidden buzz of industry-only expos. These spaces, micro incubators curated by those-in-the-know, will impart a satisfying sense of enlightenment while visualizing exactly what’s trending at any given moment (and/or what’s on its way up) will become increasingly key to nudging consumers over the line IRL. Consider Amazon’s 4-star Manhattan store, which only sells top-sellers or products rated with four stars or more online, Neiman Marcus’ Indie Beauty Expo – hosting rising cult beauty brands and their founders – or London bar Scout’s private 10-seater lab-basement lets visitors watch staff experiment with concoctions for future menus.
To avoid such access killing off the seduction of a VIP vibe, expect more membership concepts where only shoppers at the top of the tree will get access to the most up-to-date information or products, such as Japanese beauty brand
Ethics & Empathy: The Credibility-Effect of Conscientious Consumption
2018 was the year that ethical retail really came into its own and will become a sorting-the-wheat -from-the-chaff game-changer in 2019 as younger audiences in particular demand holistically responsible retailers. Socially progressive will equate to credibility, a new world of cool when anything less world/humanity-saving just won’t cut it. Fashion alone has seen sustainability-focused searches soar in 2018 – as much as 47% according to retail platform Lyst.
The Maiyet Collective – a three day a month concept store in London’s new social enterprise member’s club, The Conduit – gave a glimpse of what’s to come when it launched in October, thanks to an evolving roster of 60 or so brands recalibrating Mayfair’s luxury retail scene while new destination Coal Drops Yard (an anti-mall, if you will) is pushing hard on everything from waste reduction to recruiting local talent in its mission to seek B Corps certification – the increasingly prestigious global business award for social and environmental performance. For an end-of-year year finale see how Choose Love, the pop culture savvy Christmas refugee charity pop-ups (physical stores and online) just doubled its 2017 turnover – serving up a masterclass in ethical, empathetic engagement for anyone unconvinced of the movement’s pulling power.
Brand Broadcasting: Evolving Retail-Tainment For Retail’s Big Awokening
In 2019, the already blurry boundaries between retail and media will mesh into conglomerates of selling, guidance, entertainment and the vital bravado of outright opinion . Podcasts will figure highly, promoting expertise for players in all sectors but particularly luxury – consider U.K. fashion brand Matches’ new flagship which includes a broadcasting studio from which is transmits weekly podcasts, The Collector’s House.
It’s a phenomenon at the heart of evolving retail-tainment that’s fully attuned to new media and epitomized by this year’s launch of NTWRK – a zeitgeist tapping ‘
Voice Via Mobile, And Beyond
Voice commerce is accelerating at pace (20% of people have now bought via voice control) but while most retail discussions center on smart home assistants the screen isn’t dead yet; for 2019 the still-critical relationship with mobile devices and the need to see as well as hear will be a major winner. Dublin-based AI platform Voysis can transform a brand’s catalogue into a proprietary voice app to search, refine and add items to a cart, while Polish company Yosh.Ai creates intelligent, voice-activated in-app chatbots for fashion brands that understand what the user is responding to – match-making suggestions according to voice and on-screen visuals.
But things will get far more fluid. British supermarket Ocado, which launched an Alexa skill in 2017, is currently busy building a computing power able to slide from mobile phone to auto-interface – connecting the dots between shoppers’ conversations so it will know, for instance, what type of milk you want when you call in from your car about an order you made at breakfast.
Storytelling Becomes Story Living In a Brandscape of Hyper-Realities
Storytelling, a term now almost as jaded as content, is on the cusp of a reboot via extraordinarily immersive technologies offering communal and interactive experiences that will flip the retail script from fully brand-dictated shopper experiences to a more dialogue-driven, spontaneous landscape. Led by innovation in cinema and gaming, at base level there’s Amazon Sumerian that allows digital novices to create and publish augmented and virtual environments featuring fully conversational 3D hosts.
That may reset the playing field for brands with big ambitions but more amateur-level experience. But more extreme and inventive and ripe for the sports industries, among others, is the work of ILMxLAB – the immersive entertainment division of Disney’s Lucasfilms, which is creating cinematic spin-off spaces for Star Wars franchise where the boundaries between fiction and reality are barely perceptible. The prospect of adding responsive AI to that mix – think avatars attuned to individual users – is apparently nearly ready for retail.
Drop Culture: Tuning in to Spontaneity
While streetwear birthed the concept of drop culture – hugely hyped-up ‘drops’ of products at brand-dictated intervals – there’s mileage for brands in (almost all) other sectors, particularly as we move into an increasingly season-less retail future where tuning in for newness presents a major new form of brand buzz. Not to mention the need to find new ways, beyond discounting, of establishing predictable moments of shopper frenzy, putting brands back in a position of control. Key 2018 examples include Burberry’s inception of its monthly product drops under the watch of new creative director Riccardo Tisci (a useful tactic for grooming its younger fan base);
While it’s an emerging genre of retail that dovetails with the nascent world of brand broadcasting due to the switch from seasonal purchasing to retailer-run programming, the cred of ethical retailing resonates here, too. One of the most innovative charity concepts of 2018 was the The Drop at
Despite its convenient rep the vast and unruly needle-in-a-haystack aspect of e-commerce, particularly in the fashion sector, will require concepts that can add easy, personally relevant categorization into the shopper experience. 2018 has seen a small stream of early contenders including the work of London-based startup Increasingly, which is currently boosting bottom lines by creating dynamic bundles of products (those that have an affinity with one another) for individual brands but has the computing capacity to go trans-retailer for braver brand souls.
There’s also UK digital media company Taggstar which delivers ‘social proof messaging’ such as details of what’s trending, what’s selling out and what opinion-formers are talking about to help shoppers cut through paralyzing levels of choice (it’s already raising conversion rates by 12%). Plugging into a Pinterest-first mentality British e-tail giant
Self-Care & The Safe Space
Self-care, that most zeitgeisty of terms (despite actually hailing back to the ancient Greeks for whom it was viewed as the bedrock of a stable society) has many, many integers and thus a bucket-load of opportunities for 2019. From stress-salving yoga to alleviating existential panic – Google searches for the term surged after the 2016 US elections – to the more simple desire for time out, it’s a consumer pre-occupation that just keeps on rolling (currently to the till-ringing tune of 10.6m hash-tagged posts on Instagram). As such, the mainstreaming, and monetization, of everything from a good night’s sleep to mindfulness as a fast-track to enlightenment will reap major rewards in 2019.
For a great 2018 example of how this splintering of the $3.72trn wellness economy is playing out see American mattress brand Casper’s The Dreamery concept in NYC where visitors tap 20-minute nap slots to reboot at speed, or U.S. skincare brand Philosophy’s concept store in New Jersey, which includes a virtual reality-based ‘gratitude meditation’ space. Alternatively consider the safe space, via concepts such as The Phluid Project flagship, an active homage to gender-free fashion (also in NYC) which understands itself as a support network, acknowledging the sense of turmoil still attached to asserting a non-conformist identity. Think peace of mind meets hardcore health and you’ll be headed in the right direction.
The Rise and Rise of Reselling for Gen E-Preneur
Finally, for a youth culture bred on the notion of ‘brand of self’ where entrepreneurship is practically a default setting, re-selling has become a serious sideline to the extent that the second-hand clothing market is now growing at 24 times the rate of traditional retail. Early champions to the cause, many of whom are moving online businesses into physical spaces to connect at every touchpoint, include American luxury re-commerce player The RealReal that opened a department store-esque 12,000 sq ft LA store in 2018, followed (also in LA) by British super-site Depop (tagline: “build an empire from your building”) which is reputed to have 1 million users.
But it’s not solely for the young or fashion focused. Swiss brand Audemars Piguet is planning to start selling pre-owned watches soon, while Italian auto giant Maserati now has a program offering factory-certified ‘second-hand’ cars. Tech will be key to fueling the most powerful of the next generation of concepts as already witnessed in the domain of sneakerhead (sneaker fanatics) where advanced bidding and verification ecosystems are allowing for smooth exchanges; consider concepts such as US e-marketplace GOAT, an app that helps its micro-sellers by revealing how the same sneaker is selling, offering the lowest and last sold price. Blockchain – an immutable data ledger into which everyone involved can have visibility – will be key to the next wave; a universal slice of truth tech primed to oil the wheels of such new exchanges.