A roundup of the top retail trends seen in 2014 and how retailers have been adapting to meet demands.
In 2014, retailers were faced with two major challenges – a still-struggling economy, and tech-savvy customers looking to maximize their money. Many organizations have found new ways to meet these challenges through increased transparency and their own adoption of technology to better understand and serve customers.
Here are the top trends we have noticed over the past twelve months.
Showrooming – no longer the threat bricks-and-mortar stores feared?
The arrival of internet-enabled smartphones initially created panic among bricks-and-mortar retailers who were already concerned about losing business to lower-priced, online competitors. The reality, however, is that customers had already been researching products and prices long before they arrived in store - particularly for “big ticket” items.
This year, retailers have better understood the many steps involved in the customer’s purchasing journey. Rather than discouraging showrooming, some retailers are now all but embracing the practice. Macy’s and Target offer free in-store WiFi to customers, knowing that a certain percentage of users will be looking for lower prices online. This transparency actually helps to build trust in the brand, increasing the likelihood of a successful sales conversion.
Customer retention – putting the customer to work for you
Customer retention is critical in any business, retail included. According to Adobe research, retailers need to acquire between 5 and 7 new shoppers for every 1 repeat purchaser they lose. Yet retaining customers is just the first piece of the puzzle.
2014 has seen increased focus on turning repeat shoppers into brand advocates who extol the virtues of a company. As a result, retailers have been focusing on storytelling through online content, simplified user journeys that focus on convenience and exceptional customer service. Many have also been using online review platforms to help share customer experiences.
This shift away from traditional advertising is extremely important - 68% of 18-to-34-year-olds were at least somewhat likely to make a purchase after seeing a friend’s social media post about a product. Businesses have been working hard to solicit reviews from customers, good or bad, as a way of spreading the brand message on a more organic level and building much needed brand trust.
Mobile – an unstoppable force
Mobile devices are not just for showrooming either. Tablets and large screen smartphones are rapidly overtaking laptops as the portal to online purchasing. Well-integrated apps with a range of payment options have helped make purchasing easier, thereby fueling uptake by shoppers. Mintel estimate that 41% of consumers are shopping on their smartphones and 35% on their tablets.
Mobile is crucial to more than just the checkout process. 2014 has seen retailers mobile-enabling every aspect of their operations to meet the demands of their clientele. The modern customer journey makes extensive use of mobile technology, particularly in the “research” phase of a project. As a result, businesses have been working hard to increase their online visibility - showcasing customer reviews, for instance.
Customer experience – turning buzzwords into action
An increasingly tech-savvy customer base means that shoppers are much more capable of carrying out initial product and brand research. Customer experience still plays a vital role in closing sales and creating brand advocates.
High quality customer service plays a vital role in recovering “bad” experiences. 90% of unhappy customers will return if their issue is dealt with quickly and efficiently. These same customers are much more likely to share the positive outcome with their social circles, on and offline.
Unsurprisingly, this realization has forced retailers to not only improve their customer experience programs but also to publicize their efforts. 40% of customers began shopping with a competitor because they heard about the company’s good customer service.
Social media – a major factor in the modern buyer’s journey
2014 has marked a shift in retailers’ attitudes toward social media. Rather than simply growing follower and ‘like’ counts, businesses have been looking at creating more value from their communities.
Social media is now a key component of the shopper’s journey, with many using trends and feedback to form opinions about products, brands and experiences. Realizing this, retailers have been using social media to create “social proof” of their brand excellence - increasing conversions in the process.
As a free marketing tool that is actually popular with clients, social media is at the forefront of many retailers’ campaigns – a trend set to continue into 2015.
More than ever before, retailers are being forced to abandon traditional broadcast advertising mediums in order to focus on specific customers and their needs. The investment of time, effort and money into cultivating better customer experiences is paying dividends for businesses who are using technology and social trends to engage on an individual level.