What will 2019 mean for retailers?

Brick and Mortar stores continue to hold their own in the retail world. Statistics indicate that far from abandoning physical retail stores, they are seen as complimentary to other channels. 2019 will be a year of competition, not between retail channels, but between retailers using these channels.

Retailers who can think digital-first and employ digital solutions effectively in physical locations will be crowned champions. When it comes to keeping ahead of the competition with technology, what will be the key areas for retailers?

“Retail is not back… It never went away”

2017-18 was the period in which retailers linked together channels to create a unified approach to retail. What will consumer expectations be in 2019? They will expect a mature and seamless omnichannel experience.

Although retail options in the form of social media will continue to grow, the main channels will become more and more established, with yes, brick and mortar stores playing a seemingly irremovable role.

This is seen by the younger demographic of 18-21 year olds (known often as Generation-Z) using multiple channels in purchase and returns. One major 2018 omni-channel retail report noted (1) that when making returns 21% of 18-21 year olds prefer to return an item to an offline physical location, even when the original purchase was made from a heavily online-oriented retailer such as Amazon.

In fact, 30% of all ages surveyed stated that they will take items to a physical location to make the return and then take the opportunity to browse further items in that physical location.

Omnichannel technologies will make purchase, collection and return simple and easy for the consumer. Online purchases collected in a physical store expected to play a major role as consumers take advantage of shorter shipping times.

Stock availability will also be a key area. The concept of stock unavailability in a retail store or the words “we don’t carry that here” should no longer be heard in retailers thanks to digital cataloguing. Omnichannel technologies give the consumer access to the entire range of products.

Simply put, consumers of 2019 are expecting seamless purchase and fulfilment regardless of the channels they choose to use.

Experiences count, not things

Retailers are gaining experience with hardware and internet-connected technologies to provide far more than a sales shelf. The buzz word of “experiences” is expected to take center-stage in 2019. Although the employment of technologies such as augmented reality may not be installed in every store, improved personal interactions with customers in store will be realized.

Retailers are expected to improve in providing a context or background story for the items they provide. Retailers will employ quality hardware and excellent cloud data management to gather the data regarding customer preferences and lifestyles and then paint an appealing picture with the results.

Customers may fall into demographics, but individuals do not fit into boxes. The experience that appeals to a city office worker will not appeal to a person working in the education sector or a parent caring for children – even though they may be shopping in the same retail outlet.

Clientelling tools that provide a personal electronic interface and bespoke follow-up will provide a distinct narrative for each person and thus an experience that will appeal to each individual.

Consumers are more empowered than ever in using multiple channels when making retail and return choices. It is a salient point that the responsibility is on retailers to provide the most efficient and appealing service possible through each of these channels.

Unified data management via cloud software, robust middleware software to employ that data, and clientelling tools to maximize the relationship with the client are some of the tools available from to keep you ahead of the competition in 2019.