Talking about retail and where the industry is heading is always exciting. This week, we’re thrilled to have some retail experts weigh in on the industry’s biggest trends.

We caught up with three awesome people: Ben Davis of Econsultancy, Alicia Fiorletta of Retail TouchPoints, and Janna Finch of Software Advice to share their thoughts on the future of retail and what merchants can do to keep up.

Check out what they have to say below:

Trend #1: Omnichannel Retailing

Ben Davis, who is part of Econsultancy’s editorial team, says that omnichannel customer service is one of the biggest trends in retail today. Driven by customers’ need for convenience, retailers are working hard to make sure that they are able to fulfill customer needs in the fastest and most convenient ways possible, across multiple channels.

“Flexibility of fulfillment, returns and assistance from an associate with detailed knowledge of your account history and the product catalogue is becoming a customer expectation. This can mean in-store pickup, ship to store, endless aisle and assisted selling in store, taking returns to store, or simply being able to receive information and crucially, action, from any contact in store, on social media, over email, or via the website,” mentioned Ben.

What retailers can do to keep up:

While the term “ominchannel” may seem a bit intimidating, Ben thinks implementing the strategy is fairly simple, and lists the following action steps to help retailers get started on the trend:

– Have informed store associates that know what’s happening on the website and can access the website in-store.
– Have assisted selling and endless aisle technology for appropriate retailers (e.g. footwear).
– Run loyalty schemes that work well in-store and online.
– Move towards consolidating POS software with ecommerce platforms for accurate inventory and customer view.

Omnichannel retailing in action


A great example of this in action can be seen in Oasis, a fashion retailer in the UK. Oasis staff members carry iPads in the store so they can help shoppers when checking sizes, colors, and availability. And if a product isn’t available in the store, associates can use their tablets to place an order for the customer online.

This service also works both ways. When online shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for on the Oasis website, they can take advantage of its “Seek & Send” service wherein Oasis looks for the product in its stores, and sends it to the shopper.

Trend #2: Social Media

Social Media may not be as new or hot as other emerging trends, but according to Retail TouchPoint’s senior editor Alicia Fiorletta, it’s still a very important component of retailers’ strategies.

“While mobile payments and mobile POS are undoubtedly hot topics due to new solutions and implementations constantly coming to market, my attention always seems to shift to social media. Specifically, the benefits of using social media as a mechanism to generate and share user-generated content.”

She cites a Nielsen study that found that 84% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while 68% trust opinions posted online.

“We’re in the age of social advocacy, where consumers are brands’ most valuable sales tool.”

What retailers can do to keep up:

“It’s time for brands to encourage their customers to share feedback, or even images of them interacting with products,” says Alicia.

“For example, an apparel retailer should create an incentive to get consumers to publish photos of them wearing their new outfit using a specific hash tag. Not only does this drive social buzz, it also gives fuel for the retailer’s marketing fire!”

Social media in action


Urban Outfitters launched a very successful user-generated campaign on Instagram called #UOonYou (Urban Outfitters On You), where customers were encouraged to post photos of themselves wearing clothes they bought from the retailer, while tagging them with the hashtag #UOonYou.

The campaign was a hit and it got customers posting, tagging, and sharing images of their outfits on the site. In fact, Urban Outfitters on You was so successful that people are still taking part over a year after it first launched.

Trend #3: Personalized Loyalty Programs

Personalized loyalty programs is another big one, according to Janna Finch, managing editor at Software Advice.

“Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, it’s easy for buyers to research the many choices available to them very quickly to find better offers. Because of this, personalization in customer loyalty programs has become an important trend that retailers need to stay on top of to remain competitive.”

What retailers can do to keep up:

Janna states that keeping up with this trend involves the use of analytics tools. “With technology like mobile-enabled foot traffic analytics, retailers can analyze dwell times, wait times and traffic patterns to optimize store layouts, merchandise displays and staff scheduling to provide the best shopping experience possible.”

“To stay competitive, retailers need to adopt technology which supports measurable improvements in their store operations. Retail analytics is just one technology that satisfies this. Thanks to the growth of Cloud-based software and SaaS pricing model with products like Viewsy and Swarm, there are now products that are affordable and easier for smaller retailers to deploy.”

Personalized loyalty programs in action


A notable company using in-store analytics for personalization is Macy’s. Last year, the retailer tested shopBeacon™, a device that uses BLE technology to send location-based offers and notifications to shoppers depending on where they are in the store.

Shoppers who have the app installed on their phone will be able to receive personalized deals, discounts, recommendations, and rewards based on their previous activities (i.e. “liked” products) and location in the store.

Over to you

We’ve heard from the experts, and now we want to hear from you. What do you think are the biggest trends in retail? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: Top Retail Trends for 2015