Omnichannel commerce | Trends
2019 Will Be the Year Of...
January 01, 2019
A new year awakens the Nostradamus in just about everyone. Having read through various pundits' prognostications regarding omnichannel commerce, I've put together my own shortlist of what we can expect to see in the year ahead. Many of these require no crystal ball, and some are simply the continuation of ongoing trends. If nothing else, however, the below should serve as a checklist of actions to implement and areas to monitor.
The in-store experience will become more experiential.
We've talked about this a lot (here, here, and here, for starters). But it bears repeating: Unless you sell products unavailable elsewhere, consumers need a reason to visit your shop as opposed to a competitor's or instead of buying online at the lowest price.
Our local mall includes a Build-a-Bear shop. People don't visit Build-a-Bear to buy a teddy bear for their kid; they go to make a teddy bear with their kid—and after that initial experience, they're apt to return to buy accessories for said bear, and maybe to make another animal, or even to hold their child's birthday party there. Another of the mall's tenants, cookware retailer Sur La Table, holds cooking classes every day. Not only does it charge for the classes, but you can also be sure that at least some of those who enrol discover at the end of the session that they absolutely must buy a Santoku knife or pinot noir salt so that they can replicate the dishes they just learned—and since Sur La Table gives all students a 10% off coupon, they'd be silly not to purchase the item before leaving. The Lego store in the mall holds monthly Minifigure swaps and model building sessions, and cosmetics brand Sephora gives mini makeovers and facials. Simply wandering the aisles of a shop seems dull in comparison.
Voice search will drive more discovery.
Like experiential retail, voice search made last year's roundup of trends to keep an eye out for. But given that Comscore anticipates half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, it's on the list again for 2019. So in addition to optimising your website for mobile and online search, be sure it accommodates smart speakers by, among other things, incorporating content that answers questions, as opposed to focusing exclusively on keywords. (On his blog, marketing guru Neil Patel suggests using the website Answer the Public to help you determine the questions relevant for your site to answer.)
Chatbots will become a must-have.
Yes, the retail industry has been bigging up AI in general and chatbots in particular for several years now. An Oracle survey of decision makers in Europe and South Africa found that 80% have already implemented chatbot technology or expect to do so by 2020. Meanwhile, Gartner predicts that by next year, chatbots (also known as virtual agents) will be handling 85% of all customer interactions. Chatbots typically resolve customer inquiries and complaints more quickly than humans, which reduces wait times. Comm100, puts the average wait time to begin a session with a chatbot at 45 seconds; when was the last time your wait to speak with a customer service rep was less than a minute? What's more, chatbots can work around the clock and on holidays, and younger consumers in particular prefer interacting with apps, self-service technology, and AI than with humans when dealing with companies.
More people will purchase via social media.
According to GlobalWebIndex, more than 25% of social media users have bought a product or service directly via shoppable tags on Instagram, "Buy Now" pins on Pinterest, "Shop Now" buttons on Facebook, and other social media tools. As Falcon.IO says in its "2019 Digital Marketing Trends" report, "Instead of scrolling through a company's website for the perfect pair of shoes, customers are busy scrolling through their social feeds." Given the premium that consumers place on convenience and the high comfort level that millennials have with social media, that percentage will likely increase, especially as more retailers implement the tactic.
Podcasts will become major components of content-marketing strategies.
"Hold on," you may be saying. "I finally got around to introducing a blog, and now you want me to produce videos and podcasts?" I don't want you to, but many, many other consumers do. According to "The Infinite Dial," a study from Edison Research and Triton Digital, 26% of Americans listen to at least one podcast a month, with 17%—48 million people—listening to them weekly. While people in the UK are less keen on podcasts so far (18% listened to at least one podcast in the past month, according to Statista), Australians and South Koreans have embraced them even more enthusiastically. Don't produce a podcast simply to promote your wares, however—nobody wants that. When Sephora decided to create a podcast series, it teamed with Girlboss Media to produce "#Lipstories," conversations with influential female entrepreneurs and creative types, as a means of boosting brand awareness among its target audience. Meal-kit brand Blue Apron created "Why We Eat What We Eat" to do the same among young novice foodies, the audience most likely to order meal kits. If producing your own series is out of your budget, consider advertising on a podcast: 80% of podcast listeners surveyed by Midroll Media were able to name at least one advertiser without prompting, compared with a typical 45% unaided-recall rate for mobile adverts and 33% unaided recall for banner ads.
Retailers will add more inexpensive items to their product ranges.
I'm going out on a limb with this one, as I've not come across it in any of my research. But when I covered the beauty industry, someone told me that every time the economy slows down, lipstick sales tick up. That's because when people can't afford major expenditures, they'll still treat themselves to small luxuries. It's apparent that Brexit and the melodrama (or tragicomedy?) of the Trump White House will continue to roil the markets, and some sectors are already seeing subdued consumer spending. Unless you cater exclusively to the top 1%, it would probably be wise to add more-affordable items to your merch mix. If investment furniture makes up the vast majority of your merchandise mix, perhaps you should add more pillows and vases to your range. If you sell apparel, maybe you should move your display of scarves, belts, and costume jewelry from the back of the store to the front. If you sell white goods, offer "good/better/best" options and make clear why "best" is worth the extra money—without denigrating the "good" items, of course.