From new technologies to changing consumer attitudes, Applause has selected the top 10 retail trends to watch.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in services like BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store), curbside pickup and BORIS (buy online, return in store). While retailers in many markets have long since resumed physical commerce, the demand for omnichannel is still high. According to an Applause survey conducted last November, 66% of respondents said they would buy from merchants that offer an omnichannel experience. Additionally, 35.6% said they would actively leave a brand with a poor or unsafe omnichannel shopping experience.
2. Social Commerce
Social commerce – the act of selling products directly on social media – will be a clear trend in retail. After a three-year plateau, the average daily use of social media by Internet users worldwide increased again in 2022, from 145 to 147 minutes per day, according to data from Statista.
The more time consumers spend on social media, the more crucial it becomes for retailers to adopt a social commerce strategy. In fact, brands that don’t have one are likely to fall behind their competitors – fast. According to a study by Accenture, purchases on social networks such as Facebook, TikTok and WeChat will grow three times faster than sales on traditional channels over the next three years.
The benefits of social commerce are clear. First, it shortens customer journeys, as consumers can shop directly on the platform without being directed to an online store. Second, the rise of micro-influencers means consumers can easily find products that match their style and interests. According to a Sprout study, 79% of Gen Zers say they would buy after seeing an influencer recommendation.
To be most successful with social commerce, brands need to avoid “salesy” ads. Instead, they should include user-generated content in their campaigns and create ads that closely resemble organic content. This way, promotions actively enhance the social media experience rather than being an annoying distraction.
3. Focus on AI/ML
It’s been cited as a trend for years now, readers are probably bored of seeing AI/ML listed as a retail trend. Listen to us.
Building truly successful AI applications takes time, and companies are still only realizing small pockets of potential value. According to a study by Accenture, nearly three-quarters of companies struggle to scale AI because they underestimate the work required to properly train and test AI.
The business benefits are obvious. According to a Forrester study, simply switching from a traditional contact center solution to a conversational AI-based solution can generate an average return on investment of 241% over 3 years, a NPV of 10.2 million dollars and cut call center costs by 31%.
If retailers want to maximize potential revenue from machine learning-based personalization campaigns, they need to implement an enterprise AI program.
4. Augmented Reality (AR)
Since the onset of the global pandemic, retailers have sought new ways to replace in-store shopping with immersive online experiences. Spark the rise of augmented reality: With 3D visualizations, product demonstrations and virtual try-ons, consumers can test items without leaving their homes.
However, AR is more than a quick fix to make up for lost foot traffic. A study by Shopify found that products advertised with AR content had a 94% higher conversion rate than products without content. Consumers are also less likely to return items because augmented reality gives shoppers a much better idea of the product and how it suits them. Given its obvious advantages, augmented reality becomes more than an asset; 43% of consumers in the beauty industry, for example, expect brands to offer AR, according to a Google study.
The more AR becomes commonplace, the more digital quality will play a decisive role in the choice of brands by customers. As Google’s director of product management said in an interview, “As technology continues to improve and usage increases, augmented reality will soon become a universal language on the web. best part will be seeing how brands are pushing the boundaries to deliver amazing and useful experiences to consumers.”
5. Direct to Consumer (DTC)
With a DTC channel, businesses can sell their products or services directly to consumers, eliminating the need for middlemen such as third-party distributors.
In its early days, DTC emerged as a form of democratic trading. Rather than convincing a wholesaler to include their products in their assortment, smaller brands and startups could sell to consumers through their own e-commerce site. The obvious benefits were faster time to market, more favorable pricing and higher margins.
These days, with consumers’ growing digital shift, DTC channels are just as valuable to big global brands as they are to smaller players. Indeed, DTC has become less about direct sales and more about marketing. The bigger a business grows, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency in brand messages, as brands have no control over customer experience, product descriptions, delivery times, etc. third-party distributors. A DTC channel is a brand’s single point of truth.
Learn more about why global brands are investing in a DTC strategy.
6. Visual Search
In 2021, Gartner named visual search as one of five technologies expected to have a significant impact on digital advertising over the next two to three years.
Instead of typing searches into a search engine, users can take photos instead. In the past, image search functionality was very basic and its use cases minimal. If a consumer had seen an item online or elsewhere, but couldn’t find or remember its name, visual search gave them a way to find it.
Today, the technology is more sophisticated. Thanks to advancements in AI, retailers can analyze images taken for visual search queries and suggest similar or complimentary items. Users can also use images to search for results that are difficult to type in words, such as outfits that reflect a certain style or pattern.
7. Live eCommerce
With live shopping, customer representatives can respond to and fulfill customer requests in real time.
This trend is particularly popular in China. Live commerce was launched by Chinese retailer Alibaba in 2016 with Taobao Live, which linked an online live stream to an e-commerce store. Chinese media reported that Alibaba’s Singles Day 2020 event on Taobao Live generated $7.5 billion in total transaction value in the first 30 minutes alone.
However, this trend is set to become global. McKinsey predicts that sales initiated through live commerce could represent up to 10-20% of all e-commerce by 2026.
The benefits are clear. Live e-commerce accelerates customer journeys from awareness to purchase, especially if one-time coupons are used to create a sense of urgency. By offering new sales formats, brands also differentiate themselves and attract young consumers.
8. Voice Commerce
In 2021, nearly a third of US consumers owned a smart speaker, according to Statista. This number is likely to grow exponentially. As the Harvard Business Review explains, “voice represents the third key technology and user interface platform of the last three decades, after the Web in the 1990s and smartphones about 10 years ago.”
Buying through voice commerce is the fastest way to shop. If a voice assistant already has the contact details of a consumer, the latter only has to place the order, validate it and the voice assistant takes care of the rest. However, as a PwC report revealed, the majority of items purchased through are small items that consumers can purchase without having to physically see them. Other use cases will likely emerge as voice moves towards mass adoption.
72% of sellers believe buying used items has become more common in the past year, according to eBay’s 2021 Recommerce Report. Consumers (especially Gen Z) are becoming more aware of what they’re buying, where they’re buying it, and who they’re buying it from. Over the past year, 80% of Gen Z, 78% of Gen Y and 75% of Gen X have purchased second-hand goods, according to the report.
Continuing from #9, a key retail trend is sustainability. According to McKinsey research, two-thirds of UK and German consumers say it has become more important to them to limit the impact of climate change. To this end, an additional 65% say they will now buy more high-quality products that last longer. Especially for young consumers, “luxury” is less about premium materials and more about responsibly created materials. Already, more than a third of global consumers are willing to spend more money on sustainable items, according to research by Simon Kucher & Partners.
To look forward
The retail trends explored above are all at different stages of development. Which trends will sustainably shape the future remains an open question.
Applause works with retailers around the world to ensure their digital experiences are exceptional. Learn more here.
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