The top retail innovations of 2018

Over Christmas 2018, there were several media reports lamenting the apparent doomsday scenario for high street retailers across the UK. The biggest reasons? The rise in online and digital retailing and the rapidly-implemented innovations around this retail channel.

Making the distinction between online (‘click’) and physical space (‘mortar’) is unavoidable nowadays. The ‘Click and Mortar’ approach is a basic standard for today’s savvy customer. However, physical retailing is far from dying. In 2018 (and before), innovation has been driving fundamental changes across various retailing sectors.

Virtually all the innovations around both ‘virtual’ and physical-world retailing harness technological advances and lifestyle enhancement. Customers are becoming used to (or often welcome) exchanging data with their favourite retailers so that they receive tailored offers. The more data, the more delighted the retailer. Those at the vanguard of innovations are:

  • Responding directly to customers and creating personalised relationships
  • Linking and posting on online SM profiles like Facebook and Twitter
  • Tapping into the mobile-oriented shopper by using increasingly sophisticated apps with a range of functionalities, taking the buyer along the entire purchasing path.
  • Selling online instore – Major online retailers are creating physical retail environments to help them grow their businesses and help service their customers. The most effective and attractive stores are those which replicate the branding, processes and visual iconography of their online experience.
  • Using digital signage (made possible through developments in increased battery life), which allows big-ticket item retailers (tech, white goods) to display digital price tags and inform customers in real time about product availability.

Reinventing and reimagining space

In 2018, the most successful retailers have been concentrating on remaining relevant and extremely attractive, so that customers simply want to keep coming back. Experience is more important than ever, and stores need to be more than just places where the only interaction with the brand is carrying out a transaction at the cash till.

Shops, as we traditionally understand them, have a future, but they need to be more than just a store. Some of the most innovative and compelling stores make digital a core part of the physical experience.

Making shopping a community experience

For fast fashion brands, celebrity or vlogger/blogger endorsements directly impacts the popularity of a product. Savvy retailers are using in-store signage to display these moments, which can then be maximised through paid social media. Thus, the retail experience mirrors the customer’s social media profile and is more likely to encourage an impulse purchase mentality.

Enhancing customer convenience

When it comes to ‘high-touch’ retailing (clothes and shoes primarily), displays focus on up-to-the-minute (‘flash’) offers. Innovative clothing retailers have also been using ‘magic’ mirrors, which eliminate the need for the customer to get undressed to try on items. Beauty and cosmetics retailers are looking to digitally colour match using a customer photo, rather than testing the product directly on skin. Lastly displaying product availability is another opportunity to increase convenience. For example, beauty brand Sephora has introduced innovations such as trying on make-up virtually via its Augmented Reality app.

To end with, it is worth mentioning a couple of well-known brands who are innovating in retailing, not resting on their laurels:

Dyson is noted for its product design and engineering innovation and how it approaches retailing is also inventive. The ‘Dyson Demo Experience’ opened in London in 2016 where all products can be tested first-hand. This ‘hands-on’ experience with the principles of the brand is not hard to implement and is now being adopted by many other retailers with large floor space.

Amazon is a headline retailer channelling the strength of linking the online to the physical using big data. The ‘Amazon Go’ concept has bucked the trend by moving from online to physical store – an astute move for sale of products with a short shelf life. As we enter 2019, they are expanding this offer as well as introducing the concept of ‘no cash transaction’ shopping.

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