Posted: Wed 27th Mar 2013
Organised by Insider Trends and Enterprise Nation, and sponsored by O2, The Future of Retail at the British Library on Monday brought retail trendsetters and spotters together to talk about what lies in store for modern retailers. Here are five big trends the experts identified that are influencing the way we sell to savvy consumers in the digital age.
1. Pop-up shops
"A lot of small online businesses are saying 'We'd love to have a high street experience'."
PopUp Britain's work at creating and raising awareness of pop-up shops in London has been a roaring success, said Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones. More than 130 small online retailers have benefited from direct contact with customers since the programme began in Richmond last summer and it's soon to be rolled out in other UK locations. "All of our tenants have benefited, either from commerce or increasing online traffic, immediate customer feedback or joint ventures," Emma pointed out. "Elephant Branded even got a contract to supply John Lewis on the back of their appearance in a pop-up shop," she added. What's more, the PopUp Britain team has worked with lawyers to create a simple 'National Pop-up Lease' for landlords to use; and their showcase shop in the Department of Culture and Local Government is raising awareness of the phenomenon among policymakers. As more and more retail spaces become empty under pressure from online retail, pop-ups could be the future for small retailers trying to get direct contact with customers or break into offline retail. Check out PopUp Britain to find out how you can get involved.
2. Mobile buying and selling
"The most successful retailers in the future will be those who combine online, offline and mobile most effectively."
The emergence of mobile payment systems is a big boon to pop-up retailers and those who sell at fairs and shows. But almost all the speakers drew attention to the growing influence of mobile commerce. Around 90 per cent of the UK population will have smartphones by this time next year, pointed out Cate Trotter of Insider Trends; and 29 per cent already have a tablet device. Moreover, research shows that multichannel customers spend 15-30 per cent more than single channel ones. Mark Collin, head of retail for Europe at ThoughtWorks explained that mobile was becoming increasingly important for larger retailers and described how Lastminute.com had worked directly with customers to create a lean and functional mobile that brought in their usual annual mobile revenue in just three months. Â "A lot of our clients are now thinking 'How do I do my proposition for mobile?' first," stressed Mark.
3. The continuous feedback loop
"One of the things large retailers find difficult to do is to simply ask the customer what they want from them."
Mark also spoke about how larger retailers that had developed around efficiency of large-scale processes struggled with turning ideas into products and services quickly and cost-effectively. The modern marketplace demands agility and the key is to innovate like a start-up - and build the business around a continuous design-development-feedback loop that enables rapid development, market testing and refinement of ideas. "One of the things large retailers find difficult to do is to simply ask the customer what they want from them," said Mark. Detailed customer data is essential to develop relevant products - and almost all innovation now is influenced by four key websites: Google ("How do we use it?"), Amazon ("How do we protect ourselves from it?"), Apple ("How do we be like Apple?") and Facebook ("How do we interact with it?").
4. Customers in control
"Nowadays, retail is about what you want to buy, when you want to buy it and why you want to buy it,"
Jonathan Chippendale, CEO of Holition, developed the theme of customers being in control by pointing out how even luxury brands were now reaching out to a wider range of consumers by using digital media to personalise the buying experience. "Nowadays, retail is about what you want to buy, when you want to buy it and why you want to buy it," he said. Thanks to online retail, consumers are now "liberated" from traditional retailer/customer relationships. "The way luxury brands used to talk to the consumer was very linear and one dimensional," Jonathan continued. "They would tell their customers what to look like and had intimidating retail spaces. It's different now - the most important relationship is what happens to information once you have it. Who do you share it with? Who do you send it to? The most important role model now could be your best friend, rather than Kate Moss." So, for example, C&A in Brazil has clothes hangers with Facebook 'Like' buttons on; Uniqlo has "magic mirrors" that communicate with your iPhone to send images of you in different outfits to friends for their comment. This kind of "social multiplication" is critical for retailers to remain visible in the new world of retail.
5. The merging of online and offline
"It's about social multiplication now. Retailers are becoming interested in the stories their brand has triggered."
Social multiplication through online networking also illustrates how online and offline shopping experiences are merging together. Every one of the speakers touched on the influence of the web on the modern buying experience, from Jonathan Chippendale's in-store social media interactions to Mark Collin's description of Tesco's launch in South Korea, where outdoor advertising spaces at bus stops are turned into ecommerce centres where consumers can buy products as they wait. The modern retail experience is all about bringing online, mobile and offline together - even to the extent of designing an entire store around a website as Burberry has in its Regent Street store. "The retailers who will be most successful in the future will be the ones who can combine these the most effectively," concluded Cate Trotter.
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Photo credits: Simon Wicks