Last year marked significant change for the retail industry. We witnessed age-old retailers going bankrupt and names like Alexa surge in popularity. Amidst the turmoil, disruptors like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com dominated investment in emerging technologies, like voice-based ordering and robotics, and completed strategic acquisitions to expand into new markets.
In 2018, we expect to see faster change and greater disruption. Among the challenges, retailers will find new opportunities to engage with consumers and encourage growth. Here are five ways we can expect innovation:
Artificial Intelligence Will Enable Anticipatory and Frictionless Shopping Experiences
The future of commerce is about shifting from a product-centric model to one that’s focused on cultivating long-term, customer-centric relationships. By collecting and analyzing consumer preferences, purchasing behavior and demographic data, retailers and brands can proactively anticipate consumer needs. Retailers that harness that data and serve customers seamlessly across stores and digital channels will thrive — and make themselves indispensable to their customers’ lives.
Text Messaging Will Become a Major Commerce Channel
Retailers and brands must interact with consumers across all channels, and smartphones are the emerging go-to tool for in-store and online shopping. The relevance of retailer-specific apps will continue to wane and be replaced by the app no phone is without — text messaging. Retailers and brands will use SMS to better engage with customers and shift from one-and-done transactions to ongoing relationships. We’re already seeing this strategy in Wal-Mart’s recently announced personal shopping service that makes extensive use of text messaging.
Retailer Apps Will Struggle to Play a Meaningful Role in Commerce
As mentioned, smartphones will be a crucial shopping tool in 2018, but downloading countless shopping apps will only contribute further to “app overload.” As seamless text-enabled ordering and reordering capabilities become the norm, retail apps will not make a meaningful impact in the industry. Instead, they’ll require extensive maintenance from product and engineering teams to maintain with minimal return on investment. The real mobile commerce opportunities lie with ubiquitous properties that retailers don’t own, like messaging and social apps.
The Traditional Shopping Cart Will Die
Traditional e-commerce is already showing signs of aging. From mobile payments and digital wallets to Kroger's cashier-less checkout, new and frictionless purchasing options are here. It’s clear consumers prefer one-click ordering, where their information is stored and shopping is reduced to a single step. We’ll see more brands and retailers re-evaluate their checkout process and remove as many steps as possible across channels, including offline, online, social, SMS, voice and touchpoints available via IoT-enabled devices. To accomplish this, many brands and retailers will move from heavyweight infrastructure to API-based services.
There’s a Sales Associate Renaissance Coming
When was the last time you spoke to an Amazon sales associate? To get and stay ahead, brands and retailers will tap the unique assets they have that e-commerce behemoths lack. We saw a surge of online retailers going offline and moving to brick-and-mortar. This year, the in-store experience will continue to grow, bridging the gap between offline and online sales. Companies like The Vitamin Shoppe are now enrolling customers in subscription services at the point of sale. Over the next 12 months, more retailers will leverage those same resources. In 2018, we’ll see Amazon enrolling Prime members at Whole Foods.
2018 will be a year of dramatic shifts in how consumers interact with brands and retailers. Influenced by widespread consumer expectations for more intuitive, dynamic and personalized shopping experiences, retailers will reinvent the way consumers find and purchase products.
Greg Alvo is the CEO of OrderGroove, a company that helps brands and omnichannel retailers practice and achieve relationship commerce.