With 2015 upon us, I wanted to identify two retail trends that I think you need to be paying close attention to this year:
1. Maturing of fulfillment innovations: In 2014, retailers shifted their focus from trying to understand the new behaviors of omnichannel shoppers to actually trying to deliver on the single brand promises they’ve struggled to make. We saw some interesting fulfillment models emerge in 2014 — everything from drones to retail bike couriers to “pre-emptive shipping” to Deliv, the crowdsourced same-day delivery service for large national multichannel retailers.
But 2015 will be time for retailers to get serious and figure out which delivery and fulfillment models work best for their business models — whether they’re ship from store, delivery models like Deliv, dark stores (i.e., retail centers that cater exclusively to online shoppers), or some other mode yet to be invented.
Every retailer seems to be on a race to the zero hour, or the delivery window in which it becomes irrelevant to the consumer whether an item is purchased in-store or bought online. Instant gratification can be achieved either way … or at least for the right price.
2. Retail mobile apps 2.0: Marketers seem to have declared retail apps dead; I think 2015 will be their rebirth — not as a marketing tool, but as a customer service tool. In 2014, we saw retailers like Wal-Mart and Walgreens experiment with apps that provided customers with things like in-store maps and the ability to create personalized shopping lists. In general, the apps were met with mixed reviews. The idea, however, is sound — it just needs the right use cases to meet consumer needs. Throw in digital wallets for gift cards, coupons, stored methods of payment, and, most importantly (to retailers), a one-to-one inbox of offers and promotions that can be seamlessly redeemed whether in-store or online, and the mobile app becomes something integral to the retail experience.
The risk for retailers is if they continue to treat mobile apps as marketing or commerce tools, they won’t understand or respond to their potential value. Retailers that invest little time and effort into consumer behavior research devoted specifically to how the app can enhance the customer experience rather than be one all on its own stand to gain the most.
The Road Ahead
The most important trend to keep in mind is omnichannel transformation continues, unabated. The pressures are relentless, and they’re not going away. Fulfillment is a scratch on the surface of the changes that the supply chain will endure in 2015. And mobile apps 2.0 is but a scratch on the surface of the digital changes that will hit stores.
So whether retailers find clarity in 2015 on how to speed fulfillment or how to best take advantage of the opportunities that mobile apps provide, or whether these things continue to be challenges they struggle with by the time we reach year’s end, it won’t ultimately matter. Of more importance is whether retailers continue down the omnichannel path — you know, the one that consumers are blazing for us right this very minute.
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