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Experts gaze into the crystal ball for their top five future retail trends

Monday, 26 August 2013 | By Gavin Lower

Two of the world’s leading online retail thinkers have cast their minds forward on the future of retail in a connected world and see maximising consumer experience as a key theme for the sector.


Simon Russell, director of retail operations development at UK department store John Lewis, and retail industry futurist Doug Stephens, appeared at the recent Online Retailer conference in Sydney where Russell spoke about the path to omni-channel success and Stephens considered the future of the retail store.


StartupSmart asked the pair for their thoughts on the five top online retail trends for the future and what start-ups in the space should keep in mind to be successful. Here are their responses:


Simon Russell’s main points:


Mobile growth: Mobile will see “huge” growth, with traffic moving ahead of the traditional web. He says the shift will require an increased focus an investment on mobile optimised websites and supporting apps.


Increased convenience in shopping: Faster and very competitive shipping/returns options (free basic to chargeable premium options like same day) with full real-time tracking.


Help yourself: Increased self-service – empower customers to be able to change/cancel/amend orders once placed.


Content powers purchases: Improved content will increase the expectations of customers, who will be demanding information that gets close to what they would experience in a shop.


Personalisation: Websites that push content that is relevant to the consumer and makes them feel like an individual.


The key themes are all about maximising the customer experience making it as easy as possible, relevant to individual customers, with fast and easy processes whilst giving customers full control to follow their order or make any changes without having to lift the telephone or send an email.


Doug Stephens’ main points:


It’s not an online or mobile revolution but a context revolution: Forget about channels and devices. Begin thinking in terms of moments, times and places in a consumer’s life when they need what you sell.


Whether they’re watching a video, standing at a bus stop, or driving down the street, technology and connectivity are giving us the power not only to message the consumer wherever they might be, but also to transact with them when it’s most contextually relevant to do so.


So begin, not obsessing over channels but rather by decoding the consumer’s journey and the times in their life where they need what you sell.


Don’t lean on loyalty: Contrary to what most brand executives think, consumer behaviour is not significantly influenced, one way or the other, by loyalty programs. Therefore, trying to sell a mediocre product, by supplementing with loyalty rewards is fruitless.


Instead, focus all of your attention on delivering an amazing product through the most elegant and beautiful online interface you can build. Your sheer awesomeness will be the only loyalty program you’ll require.


Look beyond the screen: If you thought mobile came quickly, brace yourself. Wearable computing and voice recognition will come exponentially faster. Watch their development closely and begin considering now how to best adapt to these new user experience parameters.


Same-day shipping will be table-stakes: The naysayers in the market will tell you that same-day shipping is a novelty and will never be a baseline consumer expectation.


The truth is the luxury of same-day shipping will become a basic expectation of most online consumers across most items. Just as our expectation of things like page-load speed has gone from minutes in the 1990s to seconds today, so too will our expectation of delivery times. Build it into your thinking now.


If it can go direct, it will go direct: Some of the largest brands on the planet, like Procter & Gamble, are awakening to their newfound capability to go direct to consumer with their products.


Increasingly there is no need for intermediates in the supply chain. As you plan out your business model, be very discerning about the number of partners required to take your product to the consumer.


Any aspect of your supply chain that isn’t adding significant value to the end customer experience has to be considered a drain on profitability, a strain on speed and a potential barrier to optimal customer satisfaction.