2018 Review & Outlook

RIS News – 2017 is coming to a close, and for many retailers that is a good thing. The past 12 months will go down in the record books as the year of the store closing — with over 8,500 retail locations closing up shop. As consumers continue to embrace digital shopping, retailers are undergoing an adjustment period and are redefining the path to purchase and investing in cutting-edge technologies to reinvigorate the customer experience.

With constant change as the backdrop, RIS News’ asked leading retailers, analysts and solution providers to comment on the 12 months ahead. We asked them one simple question: “What are the key themes, trends and technology that will define retail in 2018?” While the answers were as varied as the participants, a common message rings out in each response — 2018 will be all about the consumer.

Whether in-store or online the retailers that are going the weather the volatile retail landscape and succeed in these highly competitive times must put the customer first. They need to find new and exciting ways to differentiate their brands from the competition and continue to invest in their digital capabilities to streamline and invigorate the shopping experience.

Our panel of experts believes that redefining omnichannel strategies with a focus on unified commerce will remain a top priority for 2018 and beyond. A key aspect of that focus will be on reinvigorating the store with a heavy investment in IoT, RFID, fulfillment and mobility. In addition, cutting-edge solutions like artificial intelligence and voice-assisted shopping will continue to cement themselves into the retail tech stack and will forever change how consumers shop and engage with retailers.

What will the next 12 months bring for retail? No one knows for certain. But what is definite is the customer will remain front and center.

JEFF NEVILLE, VICE PRESIDENT, BOSTON RETAIL PARTNERS

With store closings up 218% during 2017 and competitive pressure increasing from Amazon and Walmart, changes are occurring quickly and will continue to accelerate through 2018. We see three major trends affecting retail over the next year: voice-assisted shopping, artificial intelligence and same-day delivery.

Voice-assisted shopping. With an estimated 55 million individuals in the U.S. using voice-enabled digital assistants at least monthly this year and Amazon Echo estimated to have an install base of more than 128 million by 2020, voice assistants will become the norm. Voice assistants are replacing traditional search engines and offer an easy hands-free way to shop, especially for basics. Retailers need to accelerate their plans to integrate their offerings with voice-assisted technology to meet this demand.

Artificial intelligence. According to BRP’s “2017 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey,” 45% of retailers plan to utilize AI within three years to enhance the customer experience. AI offers the ability to exploit the data gathered on customers and their preferences to personalize their shopping experience. Amazon and other multi-channel retailers are already experimenting with AI to offer purchasing suggestions based on short surveys and purchase history.

Same-day delivery. Consumers’ preference for convenience and immediate gratification drives this trend. Consumers would rather receive merchandise at home than drive to a store, but they also want their products immediately. The number of retailers offering same-day delivery has tripled in the past year to meet elevated customer expectations. Retailers are testing different ways to effectively execute same-day delivery: Walmart is utilizing store associates to perform the delivery while other retailers are using third-party delivery services like Deliv, Postmates or Uber.

To stay competitive, retailers are transforming their business models, skills and cultures to experiment with and adopt these new trends.

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