Visual Communication

5 Emerging Retail Trends for 2019

By Lindsay Pietroluongo - 5 min read

Consumers will always pose the same challenge to retailers: here’s what I want; let’s see if you can do it. Their expectations, needs and requirements are changing all the time. A phenomenal end of 2018 in the retail industry says nothing about the ability of those brands to give customers what they want in 2019. Only the willing-to-adapt will survive this year.

1. Brands as culture coders.

Consumers, especially millennials, are emotions-first shoppers – they care less about price and product than they do about experience and brand transparency. Companies have to create a brand culture and a customer-facing identity that matches what audiences want: authenticity, social responsibility and respectable values. North Face did this by launching a line of refurbished clothing to help keep textiles out of landfills.

Brands have to be highly aware of what’s going on in the world, from fashion and media to current events and politics – and, even more importantly, of how their core audience is reacting to the culture. Before you adopt any and every trend you notice, though, make sure it aligns with your brand’s core values, too.

Also, don’t wait until you’re caught doing something your audience hates to make a change. Learn a lesson from Burberry, which had to do serious damage control after customers found out how they were discarding unsellable products.

Mature businesswoman looking at female colleague carrying cardboard boxes in new office

2. Retail as a service.

In-store experiences go beyond browsing and buying. Companies are coming up with other ways to attract customers:

Nordstrom Local is a drop-in hub where you can pick up online orders, make returns and get help from a personal stylist. Stores can hold events and classes or even host private parties. A great example of this is Sur La Table – they offer cooking classes for kids, teens and adults. Some pop-ups show off new products but don’t have them for sale. People can check out items without any pressure to buy. If they do want to make a purchase, they can use a mobile app and have it shipped to their door.

To determine which experiences your customers want, tune in to their conversations on social media.

Mature owner using smart phone while sitting on chair in deli

3. Digital and tech-enhanced experiences.

There are a number of digital experiences that smart retailers are using, from greater adoption of existing techniques to augmented reality for smoother shopping. These include:

More widely-accepted social commerce, which allows consumers to purchase through their platform of choice, like Instagram or Pinterest.

Voice-activated devices like Alexa and Google Home as a sales channel. Customers can use voice search to find and buy products, and the technology accounts for accents, slang and casual language.

Apps that let customers visualize clothing on them and skip the dressing room. It’s also easier to make better choices when ordering online.

Mature female employee arranging bottles on shelf in deli

4. Subscriptions.

Today, there are subscription boxes for everything, but the most useful ones are packed with items your customers are buying anyway. For example, Dollar Shave Club sells affordable and high-quality razors and skin care products, essentials on both men and women’s shopping lists. Brands and customers can benefit from subscription boxes:

Curated boxes with a mix of items from different brands introduce customers to companies they would have never come across.

Unboxing is an experience in itself and companies can set themselves apart by offering branded, creative packaging.

Social communities share what they received, reviews of products and how they used items in their daily lives, which helps with social proof and spreads word-of-mouth marketing.

High angle view of male coworkers delivering boxes while female is using digital tablet

5. Evolved fulfillment options.

Customers want faster and less costly shipping. This may be influenced by Amazon’s 100 million Prime members who benefit from free two-day shipping. Amazon is missing the personal connection, though, which leaves a gap for brands to fill. If businesses can offer the same shipping speed at low- or no-cost, customers can get the experience they want directly from the company instead of going through a third party.

Fulfillment isn’t just about shipping. It also includes online or mobile ordering with the option for in-store pickup. In order to keep up with demand and not overwhelm store staff, pickup lockers are often used to hold purchased items until the customer arrives. Having fewer customers in the store at once to shop also means companies can downsize some of their stores, which is especially helpful in urban areas. Companies should also consider letting customers return online purchases to physical stores and vice versa.

To appeal to customers, brands can express themselves through an assortment of content, with visuals being the most engaging and powerful. Showcase your company’s principles and how they align with your audience’s. Illustrate how your in-store experiences, curated collections or advanced shipping policies will improve each customer’s life. Build a collection of targeted photos that represent just how well you know your customers.