Last updated: Trends in retail: If e-commerce is the new normal, what’s next?

Trends in retail: If e-commerce is the new normal, what’s next?


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The way we shop has changed enormously over the past 15 years, and trends in retail commerce aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

Globally, we now spend vast amounts of money on internet retail sites (estimated to top$2 Trillionin 2016). E-Commerce has become part of our cultural fabric. Events like Black Friday in the U.S., Cyber Monday in Europe and Singles Day in China have become major social talking points and drive millions of people to spend like crazy on their phones, tablets and PCs.

Search engines like Google and Baidu have become the go-to place for people to start their shopping journeys.

And the growing availability of same-day delivery means that shoppers can get near-instant gratification with just one click.

No doubt about it: the era of internet-enabled shopping has well and truly arrived. And with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the real driving force behind this transformation was not so much the internet itself, but the ways in which internet technologies have been used by smart retailers to tap into one of the things that shoppers really crave: Convenience.

Trends in retail commerce: Convenience will reign, online and off (welcome, omnichannel)

Convenient shopping (or c-commerce as I call it) is built on three foundations: the holy trinity of F-B-G (Find it, Buy it, Get it). And consumers who love convenience (i.e. most of us) and who just want to F-B-G as quickly and intuitively as possible have been well-rewarded in the digital commerce era.

Consumer emotions and desires are the primary factors when it comes to driving trends in retail commerce:

  1. Finding things has been transformed by search engines, recommendation algorithms, and the opening-up of niche long-tail inventory to mass-availability. Shoppers now have an unparalleled assortment of products to browse, and increasingly sophisticated ways to find the stuff thats actually relevant to them. And if you can’t find the thing you want, you can probably make it or customize with a configurator tool.
  2. Buying things remotely, and without physical cash, has now become perfectly normal thanks to advances in cyber-security and the proliferation of electronic payment options to suit all demographics. Buying something online can now be done safely, simply, and smoothly with one swipe of a touch screen.
  3. Getting things delivered quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively has been revolutionized by innovations in logistics and distribution technology. As shoppers we don’t tend to notice this stuff (it happens out of site in dark, cavernous warehouses and loading-bays) but no one should doubt just how much smart web and data technologies have transformed the world of logistics and distribution.

The list of retailers hitting those F-B-G buttons, and who can count themselves as true creators of convenience would include:

  • Amazon, whose overall convenience is currently unbeatable and who continue to innovate to keep themselves ahead of the pack
  • Dominos, with their world-(b)eating pizza configurator app and super-quick delivery service
  • Argos (in the UK), who are successfully transforming from an old school catalogue player into an impressive m-commerce and click & collect market-leader

CX, entertainment, and personalization: Trends in retail commerce have the customer at the heart

Of course, shopping isn’t just about convenience. Like it or not, we live in a consumption-driven society (I shop therefore I am), where the act of browsing and buying is a keen source of pleasure and a leading leisure activity. Indeed, the increased amounts of convenience we now find on one side of our shopping lives has probably given us more time and space to enjoy the other side the pleasurable side of shopping.

Over the last 15 years, some retailers have understood this better than others and have worked hard to up the entertainment-quotient of their shopping experience. And by entertainment, I don’t just mean showbiz and razzmatazz. Look around, and you’ll see that shoppers get their kicks in the strangest ways.

It might be hunting for 50%-off bargains with sharpened elbows in the end of season sale at a high street fashion chain, it might be savoring the elegant decor, snobbish staff, and exquisitely-arranged merchandise in a luxury department store.

It might be marveling at the low prices, no-frills service, and take-it-or-leave-it assortment at a discount supermarket, it might be simply marinating in the sheer breadth of choice in an out-of-town hypermarket (35 varieties of toilet paper, anyone?). It might be saving up coupons, or searching out discount codes, to shop both in-store and online.

Basically, any shopping experience that has a unique, engaging core promise (be it cheap or expensive, commonplace or refined, rough or smooth), that’s delivered with passion and focus in a way that keeps consumers coming back for more is a winner in the entertainment stakes.

I call this E! commerce (the E! is for Entertainment…)

A list of E!-Commerce masters would include:

  • IKEA, whether love them or hate them, you know exactly what you’re in for when you visit one of their stores, and you’ll most likely end up spending more than expected.
  • Zara, which combines high-end fashion with amazing bargains without ever seeming cheap, and who always has something new and interesting to look at.
  • LIDL, the German discount supermarket taking the UK by storm, with pared-back and occasionally esoteric assortments, and incredible value for money.
  • Apple, with their pristine retail cathedrals, where the crowds flock to worship the shiny gadgets and commune with the blue-shirted geek-gods behind the Genius Bar. That’s entertainment.

Which retailer are you?

As we turn the page for the new year, retailers of all types should be asking themselves: which retailer are we? Are we masters of entertainment, or experts at convenience? If you occupy one of those categories, that’s good. And, if you fall into both, then great, your future is bright.

But if your business is neither not particularly convenient, nor particularly entertaining, then watch out. The coming years will not be kind to you unless you boost your E! and/or your C levels.

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