Very few people, if any, shop the same way they did five years ago.
The pandemic forced a change in buying habits. Online and mobile shopping became the preferred (or during lockdown periods, the only) way to make purchases. Ecommerce sales surged by $244.2 billion or 43% in 2020, as people opted to shop from the comfort — and safety — of their homes.
Nearly three years later, consumers have now decided they want the best of both worlds. They like the convenience and ease of shopping online, but also enjoy venturing out to physical stores. Contrary to bleak predictions, the ecommerce surge has not made the brick-and-mortar store obsolete. In reality, in-store spending is recovering at a steady pace of 8% year over year.
What has become obsolete, however, is the shopping experience of pre-pandemic days. Instead of running into Walmart with a huge shopping list, I’ll order online for in-store pickup (BOPIS) and then I may grab a few additional items while I’m there. Rather than ordering several dresses online (intending to keep only one), I’ll find something I like online and click to check if there’s a nearby store that has it in stock where I can try it on. Or I will bring my teenage son to the store to try on sneakers, make a note of his preferred style and size, and then shop around online later that night to get the best possible price.
This new normal — and a looming recession that’s already impacting consumer spending — is prompting retailers to find new ways to connect with, engage and impress customers. Ahead, we explore three shopping trends that can help retailers drive growth, nurture brand loyalty and survive the downturn.
As consumers become increasingly mindful of their spending, sustainability continues to rise as a key factor in what they choose to buy and where they choose to shop. Globally, 75% of consumers have changed their purchasing habits over the past year to be more sustainable. People are more willing than ever to buy from brands that resonate with them because of shared values or sustainability efforts.
A commitment to going green can keep retailers from going red in more ways than one. Warehouse automation, particularly robotic automation, significantly reduces product waste, human errors, and energy consumption. For example, autonomous or assisted picking bots can dramatically reduce the need for electricity, as many areas of the warehouse can operate without lighting.
Another robotic automation initiative, micro-fulfillment centers allow retailers to serve customers “at the point of need” with the added bonus of sustainability benefits. With opportunities to automate click & collect, curbside pickup, store replenishment and last-mile deliveries, retailers can turn idle store space or dark stores into small-scale warehouse facilities. Ultra-high-density storage and robotic automation negate the need for new builds by repurposing existing spaces while enabling faster, more accurate fulfillment.
Social commerce sales are set to nearly triple by 2025. The pandemic not only forced us to find new ways to shop, but also to connect. Social media quickly became the hub for that virtual connection, and at the same time, an entry point for news, entertainment and shopping.
By nature, people have always relied on word-of-mouth recommendations to influence purchasing decisions. Now, social media provides consumers the opportunity to get those recommendations (or deterrents) on an exponential level — from friends, family, communities and even their favorite influencers.
While selling on social platforms can be a profitable growth channel, it can also be risky. Nothing puts a damper on potential sales like a plethora of customers commenting about late, damaged or missing deliveries.
Robotic fulfillment automation ensures that retailers can deliver on their delivery promises, even during peak periods when a particular item goes viral. Even better? Operating on a platform that integrates multiple flows in the fulfillment process, from smart picking to packing to sortation. The ability to surprise and delight customers with an order that arrives earlier than the expected delivery date can go a long way through positive reviews and user-generated content.
Experiential retail allows brands to provide customers with a unique and memorable experience, one that keeps them coming back time and again. Forward-thinking retailers have begun to drive traffic to their brick-and-mortar locations with one-of-a-kind experiences that cannot be replicated online.
At the COS H&M store in Beverly Hills, first-time shoppers sometimes feel like they’ve been transported to a store of the future. Touch-screen smart mirrors in fitting rooms automatically recognize the products and sizes customers have selected, and present in-stock options for additional colors, sizes and styles (plus complementary accessories). After shoppers touch the additional items they would like to try on, store associates are notified and can bring them the selections.
SEE IT IN ACTION: The COS H&M store in Beverly Hills
Smart automation also eliminates the need for awkward or intrusive interactions, such as an eager sales associate continually asking whether the shopper needs additional sizes. Highly personalized, automated experiences like this make shopping seamless and more enjoyable, boosting brand loyalty and repeat customer rates.
The future of shopping is already here. Retailers simply need to seize the opportunities for sustainable, robotic, AI-driven fulfillment.