In 2018, tech advances will make it easier for people to shop online. Voice assistants will make it easier to command a re-stock of toilet roll, visual searches will make tracking down a new sweater super simple, and AR will help people to envision how a new sofa will look in our homes. Despite digital advances, brands will still need a physical presence, with pop ups a prominent feature on our high streets and in department stores. But to make bricks-and-mortar effective, brands are reinventing their spaces in order to get people to not only come inside and take a snap, but stay and spend a while.
In the shopping chapter of our Expert Outlook 2018, Canvas8 speaks to Lyndsey Dennis, editor of Retail Week, Dr James Dion, founder of retail consultancy Dionco Inc, and Simon Gosling, home sector futurist at Unruly marketing and advertising agency.
Lyndsey Dennis is the editor of ‘Retail Focus’, the UK's leading publication, directory and website for retail design inspiration.
2017 was a year where brick-and-mortar stores stepped up their in-store experience game. To justify their existence at a time when you can shop for anything online with a few clicks, brick-and-mortar stores had to adapt into spaces that give the consumer more reason to walk in than just the possibility of buying goods. Some went the way of instagram-friendliness, allowing brands to get some free online publicity along the way. Missguided have turned their stores into a Gen-Z photo-op sanctuary filled with gigantic stuffed animals, pink hummers and tyre doughnuts; while Nasty Gal’s pop up on Carnaby street was equipped with a pop-art kitchen, and a selfie-dedicated in-store wall.
Other brands focused on both the need to attract the consumer to the store, and the need to keep the consumer in store. Brands decided to turn their store spaces into community-fostering environments; Adidas’ new space in Shoreditch offers people the chance to relax in store, and positions a large empty table surrounded by chairs in the middle of a WiFi saturated space. Sonos’ store in Seven Dials has done pretty much the same - the basement area is a free-for-all sit down area with box seats and WiFi.
Brands are creating spaces where people can experience its personality
Kayleigh Harrington, Creative Commons (2017) ©
In 2018, we'll see more brands owning their own spaces and defining them themselves – it’s not a shoe or an apparel store, but an ‘Adidas space’ or a ‘JD Sports space’ – whatever Adidas and JD decides these mean. Sportswear companies are leading the trend, with brands such as Lululemon and Sweaty Betty turning their stores into yoga studios; customers can come into the space and put those yoga pants to work, not just buy them. They also open up coffee shops in many stores, such as ARKET or Lululemon. This allows people to come in and meet other people who shop there for the same particular purpose (such as doing yoga) and engage with them. The store has evolved from a space to shop, to a space to explore and experience, and now a space to act and interact with others – which we will see more of in 2018.
And while we can all still shop for everything online, many online-only retailers realised in 2017 that they need to have some sort of physical high-street presence. Online fashion brand Joe Browns launched its first UK store in Sheffield earlier in 2017, and family fashion brand Boden chose Sloane Square to launch its first physical space after years of online presence. That’s also why pop-ups aren’t going anywhere in 2018 and we should expect to see many online brands popping up in physical spaces to attract consumers. Even Amazon got in on the pop-up game, erecting a physical space in honour of international shopping holiday ‘Black Friday’, where it hosted cooking tutorials and courses on how to bargain shop.
The store has evolved from a space to shop, to a space to explore and experience, and now a space to act and interact with others – which we will see more of in 2018Lyndsey Dennis, editor of Retail Focus
With men outspending women by 13% on fashion and beauty in 2017, the ‘Menaissance’ has been in full swing in 2017. With beauty products like beard oil and moisturiser finding favour among men, and fashion brands catering more to the male shopper, men’s spending power is being tapped into more than ever. This sees a fashion retail environment that seeks to compromise its traditional audience of female shoppers, and its newfound interest from men. While we are starting to see crossover products, such as makeup for men from MMUK, it seems that retail will go in a more gender-fluid direction. With brands like Illamasqua and Sleek making it clear that their makeup is for any gender, and H&M and Uniqlo releasing unisex collections, both the ‘menaissance’ and its inducement of fashion retailers to go genderless is likely to keep going strong in 2018.
Online-only retailers are beginning to see the benefits of real-life spaces
Lululemon | Instagram (2016) ©
With technology, the biggest advancement made in 2017 was the infiltration of AR into the shopping experience late in the year. IKEA’s AR app, which allows people to test furniture in the home, is a great example. But other technologies are doing great things to combine the online and offline experiences, and bridge the tangibility gap that online shopping faces. GoInStore is a company that connects online shopping with store assistants in the actual store or stockroom, whom they can speak with and have them show them a live demonstration of the products they’re considering to buy via video chat. 2018 is likely to see more people get creative with amping up the online experience to help consumers shop online for more products, with more confidence.
Simon Gosling is a futurist at Unruly. He led the creation of Unruly’s future home – a 2,000sq ft house built in the centre of Unruly HQ, designed to give marketers a synapse-tingling shot of the future. He is a keynote speaker at major events, including Cannes Lions, D&AD and TED, and a thought leader in AI, VR, AR, MR, IoT and the Connected Home.
With reports suggesting 22.5 million connected products in the home by 2020, it seems that shopping from the comfort of our own home will become much easier. Alexa’s sales data is illuminating, with 11 million units sold over the last year it is selling at a pace similar to the iPhone’s pace when first released. And with Google Mini and Alexa dot retailing at an affordable £49, more people will buy into the home-assistant culture and feed their data into the world wide web of consumers.
These AI home assistants are making it comfortable for people to shop online with voice alone, with 57% of the people who own a smart speaker saying they have added items to their shopping basket with voice commands. With 20% of all internet searches in 2017 being done via voice, 2018 will see an increase to about 33% and by 2020 voice searches will account for 50% of all online searches. People will be able to ask their home assistants open-ended questions too – if a customer wants to find a particular bike to buy they could ask their Alexa, “What bike did Chris Froome use in the Tour de France this year?”. Alexa will then give them the correct model, in which case the user will ask Alexa to find him/her the best price on a new or used model of this bike. The interconnectivity to other home devices means that voice search commands can get more complicated and can include an image of a product on the screen or even combine with AR to show you how the item will look in your living room.
Searching via voice command may be very comfortable, but it also allows the home-assistant manufacturing brands, like Amazon, to do something very useful – bypass other brandsSimon Gosling, futurist at Unruly
Searching via voice command may be very comfortable, but it also allows the home-assistant manufacturing brands, like Amazon, to do something very useful – bypass other brands. So when someone asks their Alexa to add ‘AA batteries’ to their shopping basket, Alexa will, by default, add Amazon’s own make instead of Duracell or Energizer batteries, unless the searcher names them specifically. Brand bypass shows the power of controlling the search results and their outcome, but mostly how brands will have to adapt to the changing nature of searches – either by becoming synonymous with a product (like Kleenex, Q-Tips or Sharpie) or finding another way of being such an integral part of the conversation that people ask for them specifically. Brands should also act soon, as if they don’t there’s the real danger that people will simply get used to Amazon batteries and not bother asking for anything else.
To become part of the conversation, brands will have to up their marketing and advertising game from 30-second video clips meant for television or social media, to integrating themselves into environments from which people draw their shopping inspirations. If Jamie Oliver cooks with “one spoon of mayo”, Unilever should get him to say “one spoon of Hellman’s mayo”, so that when people ask their Alexa for “the mayo Jamie Oliver uses”, there is no mistaking which mayo that is. Brands can also try to become entirely synonymous with the product, much like what Heinz is trying to achieve with its ‘Pass the Heinz’ Mad Men-inspired ads – making it clear to the consumer that there’s no need for ‘ketchup’, it’s just Heinz.
More people will be using voice search technology
Sensoramalab, Creative Commons (2017) ©
Online product searching will not become an all-voice affair – visual searches are also on the rise. With ASOS saying 80% of its trade comes from people using the ASOS app, it decided to install a camera in its app, allowing people to snap pictures of posters or other people wearing a garment and search the image on the app. Fashion brands are leading the way in this category, with Tommy Hilfiger also launching a visual search app that lets you snap Hilfiger posters, ads or clothes in the store, and the app will find them and let you order them online. But fashion isn’t the only area that’s advancing in that direction, this form of visual search is also something eBay is doing, but via Facebook Messenger. The ‘StopWatch’ by eBay lets people send snaps of products and have eBay search for these products based on the image, unlike ASOS or Hilfiger you can snap literally anything and eBay will try to find a close match.
James Dion is founder and president of Dionco Inc. A consultant, keynote speaker and author, he is one of North America's leading experts on consumer trends and retail technology.
When we think of shopping, we think of pleasurable exciting shops like clothes or cosmetics, but far less about toilet paper or cleaning supplies. But these ‘need’ rather than ‘want’ purchases, will be highly affected by the development of voice searches. People’s purchases of these products will be done almost on auto-pilot via home AI assistants. When you purchase a mop, it’ll be simpler to just voice command the device you have to add a mop to your basket. It’s hard to see how, for items that people don’t buy because they want but because they need, people can be motivated to still go out and buy them physically when they can just tick that chore off from the comfort of their Alexa-kitted home. Voice is a game changer and will impact the way people shop in 2018 tremendously.
With consumers becoming accustomed to services such as Amazon Prime next-day delivery, the online shopping experience is making sure that the inconveniences that people face when shopping from home, like returns or premature charges and then refunds, are ironed out. Zappos is delivering as many products as you want to order to your home, lets you try them on, and only charges your account after you have made the decision on which products to keep and which to send back. That way, people who might have been discouraged from ordering big-ticket items online out of fear that it will tie up their bank accounts even if they want to later return it, can now shop for more luxury items freely online.
For brick-and-mortar stores, there is one thing worth focusing on – and perhaps the one human behaviour AI technology can’t quite mimic – ‘attachment selling'James Dion, founder and president of Dionco
For brick-and-mortar stores, there is one thing worth focusing on – and perhaps the one human behaviour AI technology can’t quite mimic – ‘attachment selling’. This is when the sales assistant recommends you products that could go with the ones you’ve shown interest in, or could fit your general style. While the web is making an attempt, in that “people who bought A also bought B”, its current state is still impersonal and people react differently to it than they do to the in-store assistance attachment sales. AI will catch up and execute it well eventually, but for now nobody is doing it as well online as it can be done in store with a savvy sales assistant.
But just savvy salespeople are unlikely to save the obscenely large amounts of retail space that exists in the US. In 2017, we saw plenty of retail spaces closing down because they cannot fill the stores, and this will continue into 2018 and probably until the available retail space balances proportionally with the actual demand. Retailers that are looking to survive are adding to the consumer experience. Be it adding large photo-worthy shiny objects to their stores, or selling food and drink in store – the retail space has to deliver and stores that only sell or do one thing are not doing as well nowadays.
Seamless online shopping experiences mean retailers have to step up their service
Gyorgy Bakos, Creative Commons (2017) ©
The biggest disruptor in 2017 has been the mobile phone, and retailers haven’t figured out yet how to seamlessly combine the fact that people walk around with their faces in their phones with the need to get them to look up at the store they’re in. The phones also mean consumers are far better informed; if they see an item they like, they can check on their phone to see online if somewhere else has got it cheaper. Macy’s has actively tried to get customers to utilise their phones in its stores, with mapping and product locations, and providing real-time online inventory information, but it hasn’t managed to get people out of their own phone world. For 2018, brands will try to get consumers to engage with their products while on their phone through AR apps, much like IKEA has done with its ‘Place’ app. If the phone helps you in deciding anyway, why not give the consumer another tool to use?
Oriyan Prizant is a researcher at Canvas8. He has a BA in law, which focused on people's perceptions of contract breaches, and cultivates an unhealthy interest in Korean pop music.