Big retailers to start thinking small?

Cliff Crosbie
SVP of Global Retail, Prism Skylabs
Prism Skylabs
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After the bizarre year that was 2016, it takes a courageous person to offer up predictions! However, I’ve been meeting with a lot of retailers in the run up to the festive season and wanted to share some of the trends I see developing this year:

  • Big retailers will start thinking small – Big retailers keep telling me that they’re losing marketshare to the little guys and I can see this for myself walking around my home city of Amsterdam. The city’s famous ‘Nine Streets’ area with its small, independent shops has become one of the busiest shopping areas while high street shops, plastered with signs promoting huge discounts are struggling more and more to entice people through their doors. Discounting, however, has its limits. What shoppers are looking for is the personal service and unique merchandise that small shops offer and can’t be found online.  I predict that large retailers will start using in-store analytics systems to help them design more intimate, interesting experiences found in small stores.
  • Omnichannel (the word, not the concept) will disappear  –  As the balance of power in retail continues to tilt towards consumers, this sales-centric piece of jargon seems to be on the way out. I hear retailers speaking now in more customer-friendly terms like ‘seamless shopping’ or ‘connected shopping’ to describe totally consistent across both on and offline experiences.
  • No, the high street isn’t going to die – In fact, I’ll join McKinsey in predicting that it’s preparing for a revival. They say that by 2025 85 percent of purchases will be made in store. On the new high street, sales assistants will need to be much more highly skilled and knowledgeable than they are today to create the right in-store experience.  “Seamless shopping” means customers today often go into stores knowing what they want. This means sales assistants have to be much better informed about things like specifications, ratings, price comparisons and even celebrity endorsements to help people complete their purchases. Like the ‘Apple Genius,’ they have to be able to tell shoppers things they don’t know already.
  • “Flexible” will be the new black in physical Retailing - As the emphasis in physical retailing moves to the sale close, shop assistants will need the power and systems to be able to do what customers demand to close the deal and fulfil the order. This could mean ordering an item from another shop to send to a customer’s home, shipping something directly to a friend on the same day as a birthday gift, wrapped and with a card, or simply beating a competitor’s price.
  • Machine learning will be the tool to change retail –  In order for shop assistants to become smarter than their customers and offer flexibility, they will increasingly rely on machine learning tools embedded in software on portable devices that help them to do things like find out detailed product information, make personalised customer recommendations, find out product availability, match or beat competitor pricing.

I welcome your feedback on these and wish you and your families a very happy and healthy new year!

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