The world of retail looks nothing like it used to. Malls are dying, online sales are booming and retailers are scrambling to figure out what comes next. Fortunately, the mystery isn't as mysterious as it seems.
Despite the noise about the rise of digital and the fall of physical, e-commerce represented only 14.3% of retail sales in 2018, 40% of which went to Amazon. Most people still prefer to buy in person. That buying experience just doesn't look like it used to.
Today, people are more interested in the experiences they receive from sellers than in products' prices. They know they can find great deals online, but they worry about the quality and reliability of cheap online retailers. When they can see and touch products -- and, even better, when those products come highly recommended by a friend -- they feel more comfortable about the buying process.
Social selling, where consumers sell directly to other people within their circles, is rapidly becoming one of the most effective sales channels in retail. Buyers not only get to see and touch the products, but they also can make their purchases confident in the expertise of the friends who sell them.
"In response to the vast options of online venues, product information, and reviews, consumers tend to purchase products which have been endorsed by someone they trust -- whether that be an influencer, celebrity, or friend selling a product through direct sales," says Ryan Napierski, president at global skincare and wellness brand Nu Skin.
The more digital the world becomes, the more importance consumers place on personal connections. Consider the following retail trends and how brands can add a touch of humanity, both online and in the real world:
1. Increased Importance of Loyalty
People don't always want more options. Additional choices feel empowering, but too many can quickly become overwhelming. Buyers want to buy from brands they know and trust, so encourage repeat purchases by adopting a loyalty program and giving consumers a reason to join.
HubSpot offers a few helpful tips for brands to keep buyers coming back. Gamified, points-based systems work well, but the community aspect of the program is most important. People gravitate toward brands that help them feel connected to others with similar values.
2. Purpose Before Profit
Young buyers especially want to give their money to companies that do more than appeal to stockholders. They want their consumer habits to effect positive change in the world. To earn more business in 2019 and beyond, help buyers participate in social betterment. Take Warby Parker for example. Through their Buy-A-Pair, Give-A-Pair program, the company makes a monthly donation to nonprofits that distribute glasses in the developing world. The company has distributed more than four million pairs of glasses since its start in 2010. As someone who wears glasses and has taught classes in the developing world and seen children struggle to read, this is what hooked me on the company.
According to Marketing Dive, brands with a high sense of purpose are growing at more than double the median rate. The same study found that nearly two-thirds of young people prefer brands that stand for something. To thrive in a changing retail environment, focus on more than the bottom line.
3. Everywhere All the Time
"Instead of a single touchpoint for consumers, the trend in retail over the past few years has been to widen the net that brands use to catch leads and convert them," says Jia Wertz, CEO of fashion brand Studio 15. "This calls for deep integration across all channels, including websites, marketplaces, social media, and brick-and-mortar."
Even in person, people have smartphones with access to a variety of channels. Maintain a consistent brand voice across the web, and educate brand representatives on company values. Today's buyers can smell a hypocrite a mile away, so don't stray from those values under any circumstances on any platform.
Retail's evolution isn't from physical to digital, but from impersonal to connected. Consumers have seen enough of shopping carts and shelves, and the brands that give them something more will be the ones that flourish this year and in the future.