• Forbes

Four Keys To The Future Of Retail In 2019

There have always been two retail seasons in my mind: the holiday season and everything else. In fact, nearly 20% of all retail sales happen during the holiday season. That condensed period of sales is unique and often sheds some light on much larger consumer trends.

Taking into consideration this year’s holiday shopping data collected by my company, Salesforce, here’s a look at some of the major trends we might see play out in 2019.

Mobile Will Be Approached As The Dominant Channel

By measuring the activity (consumer engagement, social media and customer service data) of half a billion shoppers across more than 30 countries in 2018, we compiled data and insights for the Thanksgiving Holiday Flash Report, Black Friday Holiday Flash Report and Cyber Monday Holiday Flash Report. The Cyber Monday report found that more than half of all e-commerce sales during cyber week 2018 were on mobile.

It should be noted that mobile isn’t just used from the couch. The 2017 Retail Dive Consumer Survey found that nearly 60% of shoppers use their mobile device to check prices and compare products while in brick-and-mortar stores.

Mobile is the key to helping consumers plan, compare and purchase products. Don’t focus too much on the device, but rather its convenience. It is simply easier for consumers to do their chosen tasks on a mobile device, making their buying experience more convenient. The first key to winning mobile is to be available via mobile.

Brands Will Shift To Messaging For Big Gains

With the majority of traffic and purchases coming from mobile devices, it is no surprise that we’re seeing some marketers doubled down on mobile marketing methods. In fact, our Black Friday Holiday Flash Report, found that short message service (SMS) and push notifications to mobile devices surged to 106 million in 2018, up from 82 million in 2017.

While email still dominates, the reason to expand communication methods with your consumers is clear. Based on what I’ve been seeing, SMS is getting heavy use by brands like Pier 1 and Kroger. Mobile messaging via applications like Facebook Messenger have also seen a significant increase in usage.

I fully expect 2019 to see another year of double-digit message growth as brands find more uses for these channels, like Lego did with Ralph -- a mobile chatbot deployed via Facebook Messenger and designed to help consumers find the right toy.

(Full disclosure: Pier 1, Kroger and Lego are customers of Salesforce.)

When shifting to a messaging-focused strategy, the key is to remember that it is not email and there is no ability for HTML. SMS is a great way to transition to a more personal transactional experience, such as letting people know when their delivery is on its way. Messaging applications enable a new form of communication via bots, where email does not.

Voice Will Be A Part Of Your Future

It’s time to begin to place an emphasis on voice technologies, if you haven’t already. A TechCrunch article detailed the findings of a report by Adobe, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers and found that 32% owned a smart speaker as of August 2018. Furthermore, nearly one-third of those owners use it for “shopping or ordering items.”

While this isn’t the dominant source of retail sales today, I believe it will be a significant part of all consumers’ buying journeys in the near future. The writing is on the wall, as three of the top four most-talked-about products of the 2018 holiday season are voice-enabled, with the Echo being the fourth-most-talked-about product of the season, according to our Thanksgiving Holiday Flash Report.

Moving forward, brands must realize voice is going to be a key part of the consumer journey. Consumers will use voice to find new products: “Alexa, what’s a great gift for Dad?” They will use it to compare prices: “Alexa, who has the best deal on that?” Even when making their purchases directly from the interaction -- and if not directly, indirectly through the mobile connection: “Would you like me to send that to your phone?”

Voice will not be a singular channel; it will be combined with mobile, messaging and bots to create a web of ways consumers will interact with your brand. I believe that 2019 will see double-digit growth in voice, as more consumers come online and find it to be a powerful part of their consumer journey.

Context Will Win Big In 2019

Based on my perspective, the brands that will win big in 2019 are those that can see the new landscape and the need for a new kind of brand experience. The big winners will be those brands that can create bespoke experiences for each person across a disconnected web of channels and devices. The story lines are the channels, but the winners are the brands that can connect it all together to create contextual experiences.

Looking back at the Lego chatbot, for instance, it wasn’t the bot that made it successful; rather, it was the ability to create a contextual experience. No two conversations were the same, as each experience was completely bespoke, creating personal context.

The big trends shaping the future of retail in 2019 are easy to see. Mobile will likely be the dominant place purchases are made. Messaging may become the fastest growing channel, and voice will likely see significant growth. I believe brands that adopt these will all see increased engagement due to lower competition, but the brands dominating 2019 retail will be those that can connect it all together to create contextual experiences on the fly.

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