2018 Top Retail Trends Recap

Let’s say you are waiting to pick up your beverage at a local coffee shop. After checking your email for the 12th time in the last 30 seconds, your gaze moves past your phone and you notice a watch the person next to you is wearing. And it is AWESOME. It’s like the coolest watch you’ve ever seen—it would go just as well in the office as at happy hour—if I could only have one watch for the rest of my life, OMG IMUSTHAVETHATWATCH!

But then, you’re faced with a dilemma: you cannot get close enough to read the brand name on this persons watch face. So you won’t be able to find it online. If you want this watch, you’ll need to ask that stranger what brand their watch is and where he bought it. Oh the horror of human interaction! You’re gonna have to talk to him, or….

Not so fast.

Situations like this were absolutely made for visual search. This tool, utilized by companies like Target, Pinterest, and Slyce allow users to snap a photo of a product, then machine learning (ML) – more on that in a minute – goes to work finding the product, and the app tells you exactly where to find it and how much it costs.

The rest of the story goes like this: you sneak a photo, Slyce finds the watch, you buy it with a tap and then pick up your cappuccino, without ever having to talk to a stranger. Whew, that was close.

Now, of course, this situation was overdramatized and completely unrealistic. After all, you’re a latte drinker.

Kidding aside, new tools like visual search are poised to make a huge impact on retail in the near future, and this tool represents just one of the biggest trends in retail we’ve observed in 2018.

Want to see more? Well then read on!

5 Trends that helped define retail in 2018

Clicks to Bricks: Online brands are moving into physical retail spaces

It’s a headline not many expected in our digital-first age. Direct To Consumer brands which normally serve their customers primarily online have taken over physical retail spaces to allow customers to experience and purchase their products in person. This actually makes sense for a few reasons:

  1. Customers still value a try-before-you-buy experience. Researching items online like a Casper mattress or a pair of Everlane jeans can only get you so far. Sometimes you’ve actually got to lay on a bed to know if it’s comfortable or try on that pair of jeans to know they will fit your body type. A retail space makes those trials much easier and less time consuming.
  2. Most consumers still prefer to ultimately make purchases in-store if given the opportunity. This is despite the abundance of product information, reviews, and testimonials available online, including the option to purchase most products with just a click. This includes large segments in our population, including the Millennials and Generation Z-ers that are getting more economically influential all the time.

Retailtainment: creating the must-have in-store experience

This trend has been growing over the past few years. But in 2018 it has evolved to the point that, in our opinion, most retailers need to be incorporating some form of retailtainment into their shopping experience.

To borrow from this article we posted in February, retailtainment “is defined by the added element of emotion, sound, activity, or ambience to entice or excite the interest of consumers and which is ultimately designed to lead to a purchase.”

An ambitious example of retailtainment that you might be familiar with is Capital One’s new ‘cafe’ style storefronts that is constantly being advertised on my favorite HGTV programs (Chip Gaines is my spirit animal. Don’t you judge me.) It seems as if Capital One realized that there is basically nothing exciting about banking, so they incorporated a coffee shop-esque, not-so-bank-vault-fortress feel into some of their branches. The idea is to create an immersive, comfortable experience that is fun and encourages customers to come back and do more business.

Another important aspect of retailtainment: Instagram worthiness. This is really an extension of retailtainment that helps elevate the customer experience in your physical space. To make your sales floor insta-worthy, look for ways to make at least a portion of the experience something that customers just have to take a photo of. As we mentioned in this post from January, this could be as simple as a flashy mural somewhere in your shop, or as big as a fully interactive, product- or service-related display.

Pop-up shops: bringing shopping convenience directly to your street corner, office, and nail salon

If the goal of retailtainment is to create a wholistic, brand-focused, sensory experience, the pop-up revolution adds a healthy dose of FOMO to create a truly a can’t-miss event. The goal of any pop-up is simple: create an experience that makes customers feel lucky that they stumbled upon it. Or better yet, host an event so good that you have them seeking out your next popup location in advance.

Simply put, pop-ups are short engagement shopping experiences, as short as a few hours or as long as a few months, that occur in just about any physical space, from empty storefronts to office buildings to parks. They are used both by existing brands to capitalize on a specific season or event, or by young brands testing the market in search of a proof of concept. And, they are everywhere… by the end of 2018, popups have become so ubiquitous that there is an entire section of a busy Boston shopping district dedicated to a rotating selection of pop-up shops.

Read on: Why your pop-up shop needs a people counter system

Artificial Intelligence/Augmented Reality: big time tech for big time results

First, quick definitions: Artificial Intelligence (AI) harnesses machine learning and analysis to improve one or more business functions (think Apple’s Siri). On the other hand, Augmented Reality (AR) refers to the altering of your viewpoint by enhancing or adding to the perceived surroundings when viewing through a screen (think Snapchat filters).

AI and AR technologies are seeing quick adoption across retail, notably from IBM Watson’s AI-based personalized recommendation service at work for brands like 1-800-Flowers and The North Face (not to mention visual search as mentioned before). On the Augmented Reality side, we’ve been impressed by Zara’s AR integration into their mobile app, which allows users to point the app’s camera at literally anything in the store, which then displays a virtual model wearing the item on their screen.

Curated Subscription Boxes

Gone are the days of one-size-fits all subscription clubs (I’m not not pointing at you, old-school wine clubs.) These services used to make a business out of sending essentially the same regular shipments to their customers, with very few customization options. Nowadays, companies like FabFitFun, Wantable and Winc wine club (finally!) offer customers curated shipments of products based upon stated preferences and past purchases.

If it seems as if the subscription box economy has exploded over the last few years, it has. In fact, this market has grown by more than 100% each of the last five years. And with big players like Amazon expanding their subscription operations, we don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon.

Do you have a favorite retail trend of 2018 that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments!