Retail Evolution

Retail Experts Weigh In on What’s Next

Kate Silver

Each January retail experts, brands and marketers kick off the new year at the National Retail Federation's Big Show to share ideas about the future of retail.  In advance of this year's show, we spent time examining emerging trends in consumer expectations and customer experience.

From artificial intelligence and pop-up stores, to flying fish (!) we learned a lot when we asked several industry leaders to share recent experiences that stand out, and what the future of retail holds:

Blending Online and In-Store Shopping
Ana Serafin Smith, senior director, media relations, National Retail Federation

"The most pleasant retail experience I’ve had recently was taking advantage of some of my favorite retailer's deals [online] during the fall season and picking up these items in the store. It allowed me to have the flexibility of purchasing from the comfort of my home while still being able to go in the store, pick up my items, try them on, return if necessary and browse around the store during non-peak shopping hours.

I think the next customer experience will be combining AI [artificial intelligence] with social media. It will allow a quick click to a social post to be able to open the AI capability and try on a new lipstick or a sofa in your living room. This will allow the consumer to make an even quicker decision on the product they are looking to purchase without having to go through layers of testing."

Personal Customer Connections
Chris Blasinsky, content communications strategist, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS)

"It’s not recent, but it’s an experience that continues to stand out. A few years ago an employee of an outdoor equipment retailer called to introduce himself, see if I was happy with a recent purchase of running shoes, if I had any issues with the fit, whether I needed to make a free exchange, etc. Not only was that phone call unexpected, it made me feel valued as a customer. At the core, the experience also was a great reminder of how the people and the culture of a company can make or break someone’s experience with that company.

"Innovations in the digital space continue to transform how people choose to shop, what they shop for and when." - Chris Blasinsky, NACS

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that change is certain and the market will respond. In my (almost) 14 years at NACS, it’s been exciting to watch how much in retail has evolved, particularly around technology, payments and how innovations in the digital space continue to transform how people choose to shop, what they shop for and when. We can all try to predict what the new Uber or Amazon will be, but I think the “next” for the convenience store industry is to continue to focus on what it does best: delivering an exciting and unique retail experience for consumers. There are 155,000 convenience stores in the United States that serve 165 million customers each day—that’s millions of opportunities for retailers to have engaging and personal connections with their customers, and millions of opportunities to create memorable and joyful retail experiences."

Expect the Unexpected
Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender, consumer anthropologists and retail strategists, Kizer & Bender

"We’ve been to a lot of great stores lately but having just returned from Seattle we’d have to say the most pleasant retail experience has to be the time we spent at Pike Place Market. The market is populated with just about every kind of independent retailer you can imagine. Of course, there is the famous Pike Place Fish Market that’s known for its fish-throwing fishmongers, but what people tend to overlook is its high level of customer care. The fishmongers are just so nice—they engage you in genuine conversation—in between tossing fish to one another!

There are events and live music, beautifully displayed pastas, fruits and vegetables, gourmet spices, jewelry and original art. Crafts and toys and teas and fresh flowers, each uniquely sold and displayed by indie owners who are happy to see you. We can spend hours at Pike Place market, wishing it were closer to home so we could shop there every week.

"The new stores are no longer stores...See something you like? It's available online." 
- Georganne Bender, Kinzer & Bender

The customer experience is becoming unexpected—shoppers want a new in-store experience. Restoration Hardware became RH a couple of years ago. The new stores are no longer stores, they have morphed into elegant galleries filled with gorgeous furniture and accessories. And none of it is for sale in the store. Instead, shoppers work with the gallery’s interior designers to create the rooms of their dreams or they can grab a catalog and order online. This “not being able to buy a thing in-store” is a hot trend. Last year, Nordstrom debuted Nordstrom Local, a cool inventory-free space where you can work with a personal stylist, get on-site alterations, same-day delivery, curbside pickup, manicures, wine, beer, espresso drinks and cold-pressed juices, but you can’t buy things typically sold in a Nordstrom store. See something you like? It’s available online.

Pop-up shops are huge right now and we don’t see them slowing down any time soon. Macy’s recently acquired Story, a retail concept that “takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Every six weeks or so the store completely changes, reinventing everything from how the sales floor looks to the merchandise that’s sold. Free-standing pop-ups and pop-ups nestled within beloved stores offer shoppers fresh merchandise and a fresh perspective. It’s always a new experience – you never know what you will find!"

Want to learn more about how consumers are shopping for snacks? Download our review of the biggest snacks retail trends and insights, “Experience and Convenience in a Shopper’s World.”