Four key trends for the rest of the retail year

As retailers strive to find ways to innovate and attract customers back to the high street, we are seeing new trends emerge on the high street. Currently, a growing number of bricks-and-mortar stores investing in their behind the scenes framework and technology platforms in order to improve productivity, efficiency and customer service. As retailers look to future-proof their businesses, we expect to see these four key trends hit the high street between now and the end of the year. 

Helping employees to help customers

The way retailers interact and engage with their employees is evolving, with Costa Coffee among those looking at the way it shares information in order to help employees perform their roles better. Instead of focusing on ‘education’, the coffee chain is taking a new approach, which looks at understanding its people better and uses ‘action mapping’. 

According to Anthony Williams, global learning design manager, Costa Coffee: “This identifies the business goals, identifies what people need to do for this, and involves designing activities that help them to do it.” At the forefront of this development is the use of video to communicate with employees, with Instagram acting as the main platform for this. As employees are at the heart of any business, this effective new approach to training and communicating with them, in a way that works best for them, will ultimately help staff on the shop floor better serve customers. Microsoft is also entering into this arena and targeting Microsoft Teams at hourly paid staff – a development that is likely to inspire other big players to follow suit. 

Online shopping with a high street touchpoint 

While John Lewis has enabled shoppers to collect online orders from Waitrose stores for some time, we are now seeing other online retailers following suit and creating an additional touchpoint on the high street for collection. The most notable of which is the launch of a new Amazon service called Amazon Counter which will allow customers to collect orders from Next. Not only is this convenient for certain consumers, but it is also particularly beneficial for Next which is likely to see an increase in footfall and it could potentially help them attract different consumers. If successful, we may see other major online retailers develop a similar offering; however, it’s vital that the fulfilment is good as the promise.

An increase in robotics

There was much discussion about the growing role of robotic process automation (RPA) in retail, as well as the merits of still having a human face to interact with in stores. The expectation of RPA in the future is that it will help retailers to improve the customer experience by offering a greater degree of personalisation and allowing retailers to deliver the same level of consistency and experience that customers get online. While the use of robotics in retail isn’t a new trend, it is one that we are seeing retailers put their own spin on with some Co-op stores having been trialling a robot to deliver goods to customers in the local area since last summer.

Meanwhile, Domino’s in the US is set to begin piloting the delivery of pizzas using self-driving cars, which if successful could become more mainstream and make its way to Europe. However, RPA isn’t just about physical robots, in fact, it will mostly be about automating repetitive non-value-add processes behind the scenes such as for testing or processing returns. As RPA technology becomes more advanced it will increasingly be adopted to fulfil more ‘human’ roles. Consequently, retailers will begin to upskill employees to allow them to move into more value-adding roles.

Augmented reality in-store

In addition to RPA, we will begin to see more retailers take advantage of augmented reality (AR) to provide a better, more personalised service to customers. Already, a range of stores and brands are beginning to explore what this technology can offer with ticket retail site StubHub using virtual reality (VR) to allow customers to check out the view from their seat ahead of a gig, while John Lewis is using AR in its app to let consumers explore what different lipsticks, for example, would look like on them before buying.

Similarly, Jack Daniel’s is using the technology for marketing purposes with smartphone or tablet cameras being used to turn Jack Daniel’s bottles into pop-up like books which tell the story of the brand and its history. This use of technology is something we are likely to see more retailers begin to experiment with in the coming months as they look to enhance the customer experience and set themselves apart from the competition. However, at present, this still feels more of a marketing “come and look at us” exercise, rather than being truly transformational. 

With major retailers, such as Co-op and Next, as well as global brands such as Microsoft and Jack Daniels already adopting these new innovations and technologies, it’s only a matter of time before they are adopted more widely across the high street as r etailers endeavour to offer their customers a better, more considered and convenient service.

Mike Callender, executive chairman, REPL Group 

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