Today the Cataclysm, Tomorrow the Future

January 26, 2021

2020 was a black elephant year, Kate Ancketill, CEO of the consultancy GDR Creative Intelligence told NRF last week. “The cataclysm we’ve all lived through was entirely predictable. … We knew it was coming, we just didn’t like talking about it.”

The pandemic and lockdowns changed consumer behavior more in the last five months than in the last five years—or even ten, Retailers have scrambled—and some have done an amazing job of reacting to switches in shopping behavior. Many of these behavioral changes are here to stay.

“The cataclysm has accelerated all the things we in retail knew had to happen anyway,” Ancketill said. 

Retailers must have the courage to accept what’s gone forever and continue to adapt to trends that will accelerate post-pandemic: the challenge of globalization, the de-leveraging of physical retail and the implications of the increasingly smart city.

5 trends for the future

According to Ancketill, these shifts are here to stay:

  • The switch to online shopping
  • Increased interest in green consumption
  • Life centered around the home
  • Changes in how we get around
  • More digital interactions

Among these, digital interaction, especially livestreaming, may be the most important trend for retail—and it supports the other trends, as well. Ancketill noted that livestreaming already accounts for 11.8 percent of total e-commerce sales in China. 

Virtual 3D stores are another upcoming trend. She presented a case study from Ikea: Its virtual 3D store let shoppers swap products, colors and patterns in the virtual displays, leading to a 900 percent increase in sales.

Stores that work harder

In the new normal, when e-commerce leads the way for shoppers, physical stores need to play multiple roles, Ancketill said. Retailers should consider redesigning to support these uses:

  • A window to generate more online sales: Shoppers browse actual merchandise then order online right there or later at home.
  • A livestreaming studio: Sales reps can answer consumers’ questions and demonstrate products via livestream. Stores can also produce special events to be streamed to the public as well as trainings for sales staff.
  • A research and innovation center. Retailers can experiment with new products and services on the spot, gaining immediate consumer feedback. 
  • A community center: Retail showrooms are morphing into hangout spaces, where consumers may browse products or just chill.
  • Transform into a city-center logistic hub: The space expedites home deliveries and provides for quick curbside pickup.

Said Ancketill, “There is great potential in spending money on physical spaces once you layer on the possibility of virtual visits.”

For example, Shopline opened a popup store in a mall in Hong Kong where its direct-to-consumer vendors can rotate in and out. 

Ancketill advised retailers, “Accept the trend toward physical retail becoming the support system for digital commerce.”

Smart cities, smart homes and smart retail

The new 5G telecom standard will provide enough bandwidth to connect all sorts of things around the home, Ancketill said—not only big items like TVs and refrigerators, but even individual shelves in cabinets. A multitude of sensors in the home will enable direct-to-consumer auto-replenishment of orange juice, laundry detergent, shampoo and much more. 

“The smart home will be the new battleground for retail,” she noted. 

Drone deliveries will improve last-mile fulfilment without clogging streets. But it will take artificial intelligence to manage this explosion in min-deliveries to the home. “We don’t want the last mile to become the new elephant in the room in terms of cost to the environment.”

3Ps for longevity

As retailers consider how and whether to respond to these trends, Ancketill advised considering which respond to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. She added, “We need to replace the goal of growth with the goal of thriving in balance.” 

We’ve seen how having a robust communications infrastructure was the key to navigating the pandemic. Retail success in the future will depend on being able to make use of consumer feedback and sales data, innovate quickly and iterate to refine innovations. All this will require providing a single source of truth for management and sales teams. 

If you’re ready to respond to the new era of retail, reach out. We would love to demonstrate how Retail Zipline can support your company’s transformation. 

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