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Outlook 2018: The future of retail

It may be early days, but 2018 is already looking like a interesting year. For the retail industry, 2018 will likely mean changes to operations, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s how we see retail changing this year.

Competing with online sellers

Take a look at any article about the retail industry from the past decade and there’s one brand you’ll likely see: Amazon. For years, internet pundits have claimed that Amazon would bring about the downfall of traditional retail stores, but it hasn’t happened. In fact, 2017 was a banner year for retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers earned an estimated $682 billion on Black Friday 2017. During the holiday shopping season, brick-and-mortar stores hired an estimate of between 500,000 and 550,000 seasonal workers.

Of course, many Americans did do their holiday shopping online last year, but they still rely on brands that have gained their trust in more traditional retail spaces. For example, The Balance reported that 75 percent of the year’s most popular toys were sold on Walmart’s website.

In 2018, retailers don’t have to fear online stores though they may have to find better ways to compete with them. Today’s shoppers want options. If a brand can offer brick-and-mortar and online experiences, that’s better for consumers.

“Digital assistants can answer routine questions.”

Working with robots

Anyone with a smartphone understands the convenience of artificial-intelligence-powered assistants like OK Google, Siri, Alexa or Cortana. While these digital assistants aren’t quite as human-like as the robots we see in sci-fi movies, they are quite a leap forward from previous speech-recognition solutions.

Veronika Sonsev, a retail industry consultant writing a guest post in Forbes, predicted that these kinds of AI partners will be a boon to busy retailers with limited resources. Digital assistants can answer routine questions and reroute more difficult customer service tickets to a trained professional. Employing a chatbot or similar solution could help smaller retailers keep up with customer demands as they scale their businesses.

Focusing on customer experience

Customer experience has long been a key consideration for retailers. When customers visit a store, they want to have a positive experience, which could mean many things. Customers may feel happy if they find the specific product they wanted, if they have a positive interaction with a store employee or if they enjoyed the decorations on the show floor.

In 2018, big brands will focus on crafting superior customer experience. For instance, The Atlantic reported that tech giant Apple plans to turn its flagship stores into “town squares” complete with classrooms, cafes and lounges.

Smaller brands can jump on the bandwagon by looking for unique ways to improve customer experience, such as investing in new decorations and scent systems or by partnering with other brands to provide a higher level of service.

To learn more about how you can craft a more impressive customer experience, contact the retail design experts at Firefly Store Solutions today – and scroll down to view our infographic on the the future of retail!