I am celebrating 25 years as the Retail Doctor and looking at retail trends. I put myself through college working at the Broadway Department Store. Back then, before someone could use any credit card, we had to look up their account number in little booklets with 3-point type. If the number was listed, we had to call for authorization.
Usually calling wasn’t a big deal, but sometimes the operator would ask, “Do you have the card?” If I said yes, they would tell me to take a pair of scissors and cut it in half, and put the customer on the phone. This was fraud protection in those days.
In those days, you had to actually go to a store to buy products. In those days, if you wanted to learn about a product, you had to go to a store. Back then, products didn't find you via a Facebook feed...of course, there was no social media then either.
A lot has changed since I became the Retail Doctor in 1994 but retail has survived and grown in its own way since then...
Here are five trends transforming today’s retail industry:
Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS). When this idea first gained traction a couple of years ago, it’s main purpose was to help brick and mortar retailers compete with online retailers. It was meant to get customers into their stores which would now serve as mini-distribution centers. It also saved shipping costs and got the merchandise to the customer in hours instead of days. Nowadays, it has expanded to include curbside delivery, and according to GPS Shopper Survey, 67% of US shoppers have used BOPIS in the past six months.
Robots. Headlines are becoming more alarming. One-third of retail jobs to vanish by 2025 and Robots could wipe out another 6 million jobs. With online still growing, there simply aren’t going to be enough workers to pick all those products, either in warehouses or in stores. What I’m telling you is even though you will no longer make as many trips to a retail store, you will still be buying the same amount of products. And those orders will still require someone or something to pick it up and pack it.
Subscriptions. When I grew up, the only subscriptions you could have were to your local newspaper or favorite magazines. Now thanks to Amazon and others, a new business model has arisen where a customer pays a recurring price at regular intervals to get a product. It can be as basic as the Dollar Shave Club or an Amazon subscription to your favorite toilet paper or as fancy as a subscription for food delivery like Blue Apron, or a monthly clothes or skincare delivery. The churn rate on these subscriptions are pretty high though, so many are losing money. After all, once you have been through a few months, you can get bored and want to choose something on your own – instead of allowing someone else to edit your choices.
Part-time becomes the norm. Retail used to be a place you could find full-time work fairly easily. But with staffing done by algorithms and the avoidance of providing benefits, part-time is now the norm. Without a lot of effort, you can’t build loyalty and a branded shopping experience with people who only work a couple days a week. In a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, do retailers train less because they have more part-timers or more part-timers because they train less?
Managers as task masters. It used to be managers were in stores to develop their crew, to make their day, to motivate employees so they would want to advance into management. With the exception of Lululemon, other large retail stores have scrapped such idealistic plans.. When managers are primarily responsible for moving merchandise, getting orders picked and other tasks, employee development falls. Because the job market is so tight and their tasks so long, just getting the job done is a daily hassle.
Rentals. But the most startling transformation in retail has to be the ability to rent anything at any time and have it come to you. As Boomers age-out from buying the latest in clothing, cars, appliances, etc. retailers will be looking to Millennials to pick up the slack. But the Millennial generation doesn’t see as much reason to own and is happier to downsize, share, and rent.
At the same time, here are three retail trends from the past that are making a reappearance:
Second-hand stores. There was a time when used clothing was only found in older, downtown stores; now consignment and thrift stores are booming. The stigma of buying used is gone and Millennials in particular are willing to pay big bucks for vintage jeans which someone actually wore, stained, and used. Further, according to CNN, soon at Neiman Marcus stores, customers will be able to receive a price for their items from used clothing retailer Fashionpile on the spot and get cash back. With more than 1 in 3 Gen Z shoppers buying secondhand clothes, the resale clothing industry is expected to go from $28 billion today to $51 billion by 2023.
Restaurants in stores. Department stores have always known the longer you can keep a shopper in your store, the more likely they are to buy. While many department stores scaled back or closed their own restaurants in the 70’s and 80’s, boutique retailers like Anthropologie and RH and even legendary Tiffany’s are bringing upscale restaurants back in-stores to enhance customer lingering.
Dollar stores. I grew up on Kresge and Woolworths where most everything carried a low price. Through recessions and boom years, these stores came and went. But now they have found their niche, particularly in rural areas. Just this week, the largest with 8000 locations Family Dollar, announced plans to sell alcohol in 1000 stores. These stores are poised to be affected the most from the tariff wars.
With online bandits getting story after story about how the customer has changed, brick and mortar retailers need to bring the focus back to a branded shopping experience and not give up or become complacent.
That takes hiring people who are trainable, who don’t look down on retail as beneath them.
It takes training them in the steps that have to occur for a person to buy your products at full price and then holding them accountable for delivering it.
It takes moving from the minimum acceptable training to the necessary required training. That means hiring full-time employees and having managers who emphasize growing their skills so that training becomes what we do, not what we did.
It means having BOPIS easily available and marketed.
It means robots are coming. And mark my words, if you don’t add anything to a sale, you’re in jeopardy of being replaced by a robot.
And rental services are here and growing.
But don’t let those trends affect you or your customers’ in-store shopping experience.
You want to be around twenty-five years from now?
Be brilliant on the basics of engaging a stranger, discovering the shopper and yes, making a customer.
And if you’re ready for that, download my services guide to see all the ways I can help you.