It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago pop-up shops weren’t a thing, subscriptions were for magazines, and Instagram was a barely on-the-radar photo-sharing app — not the birthplace of influencer marketing.
There’s no question that retail has undergone a massive transformation over the past decade — mostly for the better. The rise of e-commerce has brought more convenience and choice to consumers and has allowed new brands to enter the marketplace without having to go through traditional gatekeepers. Meanwhile, a growing number of brick-and-mortar stores are now easily confused for art galleries, hip cafes or even community centers.
As someone who grew up in traditional retail and now leads an e-commerce agency, I’m excited about the strides retail has made, and where it’s headed as we plunge into a new decade.
But that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. As much progress as we’ve seen, some retailers are still holding onto bad habits from a bygone era. Here are some retail trends I hope we’ll (finally) wave goodbye to in 2020:
Waging War On Returns
It never fails to surprise me how often ineffective policies are guided by fear. Take returns, for example. Many companies still refuse to streamline this process by imposing short return windows, preventing online purchases from being taken back in store, or neglecting to include return postage and instructions in delivery packages.
The misguided thinking here is that making returns easy will encourage consumers to abuse the system and, ultimately, cost retailers money. But I find the opposite is true.
In the era of online shopping, easy returns are crucial in getting consumers to take a chance on a new brand or product. What’s more, no-hassle returns have proven to be a critical component in building trust and loyalty with customers, and can even inspire repeat purchases. One report found that 96% of consumers said they’d shop with a retailer again if they found the return experience was easy.
Zappos is a good example of this principle in action. The online shoe retailer is often lauded for its excellent customer service, thanks mostly to its free 365-day return policy. Far from costing the company money, Zappos has found customers with the highest return rates are the ones who spend the most money — and generate the biggest profits — for the brand.
Hiding The Story
I was recently in Bloomingdale’s and, frankly, it wasn’t a great experience. The racks weren’t well kept, and when I was rifling through them I had no context for what I was looking at. Was this a new collection? Last year’s model? What was the story here?
If the rise of direct-to-consumer retail has taught us anything, it’s the power of storytelling to set a brand apart. It’s no longer good enough for retailers — online or off — to put their products on display and hope for the best. Consumers are now accustomed to having product knowledge and context at their fingertips. If retailers don’t provide that information, people will seek it — and likely make their purchases — elsewhere.
For traditional retailers that don’t own a product’s origin story, shedding light on the process of curating inventory is an opportunity that’s too often missed. Telling the story of why a specific clothing or makeup line stood out from the competition to wind up on the shelf leverages the experience and knowledge of buyers who have a unique perspective on the marketplace.
Macy’s has done this with its Style Crew, an online platform where influencers share their favorite products and, importantly, why they like them. Meanwhile, the brand also acquired New York-based concept shop Story to create highly curated pop-ups in its physical stores. Organized by theme, these spaces change every few months to create a “narrative experience” shoppers can keep coming back to.
Maintaining The Great Online-Offline Divide
Too many brands still see online and offline as separate worlds. Customers don’t.
There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a deal in-store that you can’t access online or vice versa, or taking time to fill out a customer profile online and then being completely anonymous when shopping in person.
As we head into the next decade, I expect we’ll see more retailers blur the boundaries between online and offline when it comes to displaying products. Lacoste and Wayfair, for instance, are two brands that are already doing this by investing in augmented reality.
Equally important, however, will be erasing the boundaries customers experience when they interact with brands across various platforms. By now, most retailers have recognized that success comes down to reaching consumers across multiple channels. The next step is figuring out how to recognize the same individuals as they move across them.
I know I can’t predict exactly what the next 10 years hold for retail. But history has proven this to be true: What consumers want from retailers — great customer service, products at a fair price and an overall pleasant shopping experience — is unlikely to change. Saying goodbye to some of these archaic retail trends will help ensure we can meet that demand and remember what’s really important as we move into a new decade.