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Analysis

The five retail trends that almost certainly, probably won’t happen in 2018

As we begin the new year, many experts are offering their predictions for the retail industry. However, I think it’s important to provide a unique take on the well-tread predictions pieces with five hotly-tipped trends that won’t actually come to pass in 2018

Social commerce becomes the dominant sales channel

Social commerce is beginning to find its way. A recent global (US) survey of business owners revealed that 25% of retailers sell through Facebook, and 40% sell through social media as a whole. Platforms such as Instagram are increasingly becoming a shop window, with more than 30% of Instagram users admitting to buying items after seeing them in photos or videos on the app.

However, while more than 38% of 18-34 olds would like to purchase items directly from Instagram, this number falls to less than 10% for older age groups. This trend suggests that social commerce, while an important platform, won’t suddenly begin to dominate sales in 2018.

Demise of the independent retailer

Bemoaning the demise of the British high street has become a popular pastime. However, according to figures published by the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), national chains saw a fall last year across the UK’s top 500 town centres and traditional, independent retailers opened more shops than were closed.

Independent retailers, reports of your demise have been grossly exaggerated.

As shoppers, we are looking for individual, stylised brands that resonate with us. This provides independent retailers with an opportunity to compete and get ahead of the competition, however large. Creating unique customer experiences is key and, with customer insights becoming much more widely available and accessible to businesses of all sizes, it’s easier to do.

At Brightpearl, we work with retailers who are thriving; their resilience and success a result of using savvy approaches. Supported by intelligent systems that help them automate repetitive admin tasks, they are able to serve niche audiences and deliver the personalised experiences and immediacy that today’s customer expects.

Chatbots become the go-to customer service channel

It’s no secret that in this instant gratification economy, customers demand immediate responsiveness from retail brands and expect fast and reliable customer service across all channels.

Customer care is moving quickly to keep up with evolving technological opportunities and chatbots are growing in popularity. They allow brands to improve the consistency of the service they offer, answer questions 24/7 and provide the quick and efficient communication that customers demand.

So, will all retailers switch to chatbot-enhanced support to resolve every customer problem? Not this year they won’t. Retailers continue to face significant challenges with chatbot usage, such as empathy and emotional intelligence.

Technology research group Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a company without interacting with a single human, and that seems a more sensible timeline for chatbot adoption.

Next day delivery as standard

Speed, convenience and accuracy are now the core qualities that define a top shopping experience. Customers increasingly value the ability to buy quickly and easily and are getting less and less patient when it comes to waiting. Whether that includes waiting for orders to be delivered, for new goods to show up in stores or for great deals, customers do not tolerate delays.

Fast and free delivery is becoming the new standard for shoppers, with the need for accurate information about product availability, shipping and inventory counts becoming the strategic element to driving bottom-line success and establishing customer loyalty.

However, many retailers do not have the right systems in place to meet this expectation of instant gratification that isn’t likely to change in the short-term, despite the necessity.

Those retailers who do step up and give serious thought to retooling how they invest and operate their supply chains are most likely to remain competitive in 2018.

Voice search

There is no doubt that voice search will become one of the major innovations of the next decade.

After the initial minor advances of controlling your lights and garage doors, the next big amplification of the tech will be the effect it has on retail. Consumers want a frictionless experience from businesses. They want technology to fit seamlessly into the world around them. Retailers must support the shift from ‘getting online’ to ‘living online’, and look to support that through their offering.

I believe we are at a tipping point with voice search. Perceived challenges around accuracy continue to hold back widespread adoption with just 20% of mobile queries made through voice searches, despite the clear opportunities for the technology.

While I don’t believe 2018 will be the year of ‘voice’, the impact of voice search is growing and soon, retailers will find a way to capitalise on this technology.

Derek is the CEO of Brightpearl, responsible for the overall company strategy and for delivering on Brightpearl’s mission to automate retail. 

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