Selling through brick and mortar retailers remains a crucial strategy for many manufacturers and distributors. But as more and more consumers turn to the Internet to make their purchases, many retailers and wholesalers alike are wondering how to keep customers coming through the door.

The answer lies in creating unique experiences in stores that can’t be replicated online. This means that wholesale brands and their retail partners must work together to stay at the forefront of trends in retail merchandising, creating unique and enticing product displays that help drive awareness and loyalty, and help retailers and supply chain partners meet and exceed sales targets.

Here are five trends in retail merchandising that we’re watching closely.

1. Pop-Up or Flash Stores

Pop-up stores, or flash stores, are a retail merchandising trend that has grown over the last decade to more than $10 billion in sales. They allow manufacturers and distributors to directly target consumers at far less cost than having a year-round store, and they allow retailers to extend their brand to new locations or experiment with design and other ideas that might not be cost effective in a full time retail space.

Pop-up stores are really about being in the right place at the right time, with the right products. They are particularly popular around the holidays, with more than 61 percent of shoppers citing seasonal products as the main reason to shop at a pop-up store.

This trend isn’t limited to the holidays, however. They can be strategically implemented at any time of the year or in any location – from vacant retail space, to a store within a store, or even inside a shipping container – that makes sense for your brand or product. For instance, a swimwear brand could locate a pop-up shop near a beach in the summer, or a jewelry brand could open a pop-up store within one of its retail partner stores.

2. Creating and Curating Around a Narrative

In the online world, websites are driven by narrative, a story that appeals to a specific clientele or persona who is most likely to visit or buy from the site. Doing this successfully requires a strong understanding of both the customer and the brand: What is your customer’s story? What is the story your brand is trying to tell?

In the offline world of retail, a similar trend is happening with retailers who curate products and brands they sell around a narrative or story. This approach is targeted toward a specific person who wants to accomplish a particular objective, whether it’s looking fashionable or becoming a better chef. The story can change at various times of the year, with one season looking very different from the next.

As you’re planning merchandising displays, curate products and brands with a story in mind. Who is your target customer, and what do they want? Why do they visit a retail store? Then plan and organize products that help them live out that story.

3. Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is catching on as a way to allow retail customers to immerse themselves in the experience of owning a product or engaging with a brand without leaving the store. VR offers a way to let customers try before they buy with products that can’t easily be tried out in the store, or to experience or connect with brands in ways they otherwise couldn’t.

The concept is already in wide use. Toms, the footwear brand famous for its “one to one” program that donates one pair of shoes for every pair it sells, put virtual reality headsets from Samsung into more than 100 of its stores last year. The headsets allow viewers to watch in virtual reality as children in Peru receive their donations. Outdoor brand The North Face has introduced several VR experiences, viewable on mobile devices using Google Cardboard or similar viewers, as well as in select stores. One, called the “The North Face: Nepal” allows customers to experience winter in Nepal.

One of the big challenges with VR is cost – VR productions are expensive to create, while the devices that enable it to be viewed are also expensive. For example, the Oculus Rift VR headset costs in the neighborhood of $600, while other VR display systems may range as high as $3,000. This is an in-store merchandising trend that we expect to see becoming more popular. While today, VR productions are mainly being produced by large brands, as costs come down, VR will provide a great opportunity for smaller and mid-size brands to partner with retailers on the production and distribution of VR experiences.

4. Interactive Retail Merchandising Displays

Interactive retail merchandising is a hot trend in retail right now. Many major brands, such as Dr. Scholl’s, Rebecca Minkoff, and Bauble Bar are investing in interactive displays and kiosks that help customers find what they want, determine inventory levels, try out products and even be fitted for customized products right on the sales floor.

Why are interactive retail merchandising displays becoming so popular? Because they speak to an important customer need to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see products before they purchase them. Most retail experiences, whether online or in a brick and mortar retail store, limit customer options which makes it difficult to overcome buying objections and concerns.

Interactive displays aren’t just for big brands that can afford to invest in high tech. Even smaller retailers and brands can take advantage of this trend simply by allowing customer interaction with products, whether that means removing a sample product from its packaging so that customers can more closely inspect and handle it, or offering a free trial sample. Cosmetics and food retailers have always done this with great success; the trend is now catching on in other industries as well.

5. Mobile Payment and Checkout

Mobile payment wallets– such as Apple Pay – allow customers to quickly pay for purchases using their phones or wearable devices. What does payment and checkout have to do with retail merchandising? It’s about making the buying process more seamless to compete with online and mobile competition.

Adopting this technology is an important way to attract and retain Millennials and other tech-savvy consumers; these customers expect retailers to adapt quickly to new technologies and accept new forms of payment. They also want to be incentivized for using these methods – whether it’s by ordering ahead and skipping the line at Starbucks, or taking advantage of cashback offers from their credit card carrier.

Retailers can tie their own loyalty programs into mobile payment systems, awarding loyalty points just as they would if paying by cash or a physical credit card. Another way to incentivize using mobile checkout like Apple Pay is by training employees to encourage customers to use it, and to educate employees to respond to customer questions about using mobile payment.

Education is important, because many retailers and consumers hesitate to use mobile payment due to concerns about security. In fact, however, many experts say mobil.e payment is more secure than using a debit card or other online payment. For instance, if an unauthorized person gains access to a customer’s iPhone, the security settings can be set to wipe all data – including payment data – from the phone after several unsuccessful attempts.

Although it’s a challenging time for retail, more than 75% of customers say that the sensory experience of shopping in a retail store is important to them; more than 79% still appreciate the instant gratification of taking a product home. These aspects of the retail buying experience can’t be replicated online or through other marketing channels. That’s why staying on top of retail merchandising trends will always be an important part of wholesale and retail business success.

What retail merchandising trends are you watching? Let us know in the comments.

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