The shopper came to the store to pick up an awaiting jacket. She left having been offered free tailoring and a glass of wine, with a sense of being swept off her feet — all within steps of the shop door.
This will be the retail experience of 2018. Pressured by data-enhanced online competition, nimble startups and super-powered shoppers, retailers are testing their creative abilities to recapture the shopper’s imagination. And this will manifest in many great opportunities for shoppers in the coming months.
In short, it will be a buyer’s market for shoppers. As many as 12,000 stores are predicted to shutter in 2018, according to estimates by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. That follows roughly 9,000 store closings in 2017, when more than 50 retail chains filed for bankruptcy protection, reports Business Insider.
Retailers are responding by inventing new ways to romance shoppers, and that means identifying what they want most. All of which leads to big opportunities for consumers. Here are five that shoppers can expect in 2018.
1: More free services. Free samples are rarely rejected, but now they are sooo 2015. Today’s shopper can expect free cosmetic treatments, in-home tech consultations and classes. And they can even anticipate these perks without buying something. The Apple Town Square store in Las Vegas (and other locations) offers free classes in music, photography and technology basics (all using Apple devices). Sephora offers free mini makeovers; Best Buy sends in-home advisors to help customers with smart homes, appliances and more; and Walmart plans to expand free curbside pickup to 1,000 locations in 2018, for a total of 2,100 stores.
2: More relevant offers and suggestions. Retail’s broad adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning is enabling brands to access massive amounts of data to more accurately assess shopper preferences and make on-the-money suggestions. For shoppers, this means successful (and shorter) shopping trips. Alibaba uses deep learning to enable what it calls FashionAI: In-store interactive screens that make clothing and accessory suggestions to shoppers based on what they are trying on. Shoppers can then make their choices on screen. The screen does not use a camera; it reads information on product tags and relies on a memory of millions of clothing items, by store.
3: More for less (time). Forget bitcoin; retailers realize that time is among the most valuable of currencies shoppers trade in today. Freestanding kiosks that offer endless aisles of products, new store layouts to accommodate quick trips, and grab-and-go meals at the door will be commonplace as retailers retrofit their formats. Target’s next-generation store in Richmond, Texas, includes two entrances, one expressly for online pickups or grab-and-go food items. In Spain, the fast-fashion chain Zara is following Walmart’s lead and testing self-service kiosks where shoppers can retrieve orders they placed online.
4: More bargaining. Many shoppers expect to dicker over the price of a mattress or car, but they can apply those same skills, with success, at specialty and department stores. Many electronics chains, for example, are willing to haggle on price, according to Consumer Reports. Beyond the price tag, shoppers of Jet.com can get lower prices on items if they order more than one of each. Or shoppers can squeeze out as much product as they can for one price. MoviePass and Smashburger are among brands offering unlimited or nearly unlimited products and services for a flat fee. In many cases the shopper only needs to use the pass a few times a week to break ahead.
5: Less aggravation. Retailers are acknowledging shopper pain points for what they are: Barriers to purchase, not necessary evils. Casper Mattress answers the generations-long plea to just get the mattress into the bedroom without a rope, car roof and sore back. Returns are another major area where shoppers can expect relief. With Walmart’s return app, Mobile Express Returns, shoppers simply enter the merchandise info and then make a brisk return through a dedicated express lane. For those unhappy with online purchases, the retail service Happy Returns operates a network of return bars that accept items purchased from a variety of participating brands. The service, in nearly 15 metro areas, is free and does not require receipts.
Retailers may have lots of price power, brand contracts and shopper data, but they recognized a long time ago the shopper has control, and is gaining more. Technology liberates shoppers to purchase their shoes, meals and makeup based on what is at their fingertips at the precise moment they need these things, so why settle for less? Retailers know the only way to stand out is to be amazing.
Happy 2018. Prepare to be amazed.