We are living in a time of radical transformation as the retail ecosystem continues to change at an accelerated pace (that shouldn’t surprise anyone). Although there are doomsayers who look at store closings (Sears, Lowe’s, JC Penney, Macy’s, etc.) as the harbingers of worse to come, retail is actually expanding, consumers are shopping and sales are up. Retail is just changing. Where, when and how consumers buy goods is shifting and, if we want to succeed, we need to keep up with the trends that are already having an outsized impact.
So, what macro trends already affecting brand marketing and consumer behavior should we be paying even more attention to in the new year? Here are my 10 picks, in no particular order (I couldn’t even begin to prioritize them):
- Online and Offline Continue to Blur. The blurring of online and offline retail will continue at an increased pace. Online retailers will aggressively march into brick and mortar (Amazon bookstores, Buzzfeed at Macy’s, Adore Me, Facebook at Macy’s and Untuckit, to name a few). But brick-and-mortar retailers will not sit still as they to continue to up their game in online retailing (e.g., Walmart, Target, Macy’s, to name a few).
- It’s About Experiences. Brands will continue to look for ways to “pull” consumers into a brand rather than “pushing” the brand at them. There will be more “experiences” offered to consumers – both virtual and physical – such as creatively driven pop-up stores; online experiences; new, permanent mono-branded stores (for instance, the new Cover Girl store in New York City); malls featuring spa services, tailoring, personal stylists; branded hotels (like the Shinola Hotel opening in Detroit and the Restoration Hardware Hotel opening in NYC); themed restaurants (the Kellogg’s Cereal Café is one example); and themed exhibits (such as National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey in NYC). Brands and consumers will become more “entangled.”
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- AR Wins. Augmented Reality (AR) makes it easier for consumers to get information, see and experiment with products, make purchasing decisions and directly engage with a brand. When it comes to Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality, AR will become the technology of choice in the shopping journey, as it brings experiences to our real world instead of placing consumers in a fantasy world. Examples include both IKEA and Wayfair which have apps that allow consumers to see actual furniture (to scale!) in their own homes.
- Watch eSports. eSports, with hundreds of thousands of viewers for any single event, players gaining celebrity status, teams becoming increasingly popular and competition among leagues heating up, will grow as a marketing tool for brands. Colleges and universities will establish eSports programs (it’s already started). The audience will continue to expand driven by more awareness among viewers, bigger and better platforms and more television broadcasts. More brands (including retailers) will seek to get in on the act as sponsors or licensees.
- The Year That Goes To Pot. As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states (to say nothing of legalization in Canada), it will be marketed like any other consumer product and the recreational marijuana industry will evolve like any other consumer product industry. We’re already seeing big companies enter the space. Constellation Brands (maker of Corona beer), Altria (maker of Marlboro cigarettes) and InBev (maker of Budweiser) have all announced investments in Canadian cannabis companies as they begin to experiment with new products. Marketers from Apple, Gatorade and MillerCoors have joined Cresco Labs, a cannabis marketing firm. The industry is just beginning to understand brands. And watch carefully as the retail experience changes and becomes more sophisticated. Cannabis is moving from the back room to Main Street.
- Take a Position. Brands are increasingly aware that younger consumers want their brands to take a position and to have a purpose. Sometimes brands are compelled to take a controversial position, such as abandoning the NRA following the shooting last February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Or they voluntarily take a controversial position such as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad. And, frequently, brands simply adopt non-controversial positions such as fashion brand Everlane promoting manufacturing transparency and sustainability. Expect to see brands of all stripes taking positions on topics meaningful to consumers. Brands can no longer remain on the sidelines.
- GenZ Comes of Age and the Alpha Generation Gets Started. More and more attention will be paid to GenZ (born after 1998) as the older end becomes consumers. They are 25% of the population and will be a bigger wave than both Millennials and Baby Boomers. They are digital natives and know little of the world before smartphones, Amazon and Google. Digital connectivity, on multiple platforms, comes easy to them. They want their “brands” to act more like advisors than salespeople, brands that they can consider “real.” So, look for brands to be adapting to this generation. However, brands will also increasingly focus on the Alpha Generation, born after 2009 (that’s not a typo!). These under-10 year olds are having an outsized impact on their Millennial parents’ shopping behaviors. And, even more than GenZ, they started swiping and using voice activation devices while they learned to walk!
- Digital Brands. Younger, internet savvy, digitally native vertical brands will continue to flourish and see their numbers increase. Some of them are, bit by bit, eating into the market share of the big consumer products companies. Consider how Tempurpedic and Serta Simmons got blindsided by Caspar. Harry’s Shave Club is eating into Gillette and Schick’s market share. And so on. The big boys aren’t going to simply stand by wondering what to do. They know what to do –– and that’s compete! We will see new digital brands launched by the big, traditional consumer products companies, to say nothing of acquisitions.
- Digital Detox Paradox. Although consumers seek to be digitally connected 24/7 on multiple platforms (sometimes at the same time), they also want the opposite… to get away from their devices for a period of time, both at work and at home. Already we see devices banned at certain occasions, such as office meetings and restaurants. The research is clear that digital breaks increase productivity. And in a really interesting twist, Millennials and GenZ, who came of age with social media, are, in a surprising number, permanently or temporarily abandoning social media. Retailers and consumer products companies will have to navigate this very complex cultural paradox. I’m eager to see how they do it.
- Looking Back. “What’s old is new again.” While we are seemingly addicted to our “futuristic” world, we also seem to always look back. Younger generations even look back to a time before they were born. Amazon, the retail-disrupter-in-chief is opening bookstores and mailing an ink-on-paper toy catalog. E-readers are slowly giving way to “real” books and iTunes to vinyl records. Brands that we remember (or mis-remember) fondly come back from the dead, such as FAO Schwarz (and is Toys ‘R Us far behind?). The Monday to Friday work week is making a comeback (that means no emails on the weekend, by the way – see #9 above). As we look forward, keep an eye on brands, products and trends that make a comeback.
- Influencers. I know that I said “10” – so consider this a bonus. 2018 was the year of the Influencer as some became celebrities, some got into trouble and brands started being smarter about how they use these digital celebs. This communications strategy is poised to become much more sophisticated as consumer products companies better understand how to use influencers (both famous ones and not-so-famous ones) to communicate their brand messages – and influencers learn how to navigate the commercial landscape. Look for younger and younger influencers to gain larger and larger followings, including the aforementioned Alpha Generation (there’s already an eight year old influencer, Ryan, with lots of followers who talks about toys – and he’ll even soon have his own line of toys!).
I could easily list another 10 things to keep track of in 2019. It’s an exciting time to be navigating the shopping battlefield. Here’s to 2019. Strap on your seat belts.