Part I: Voice Shopping and Brand Values Top RetailMeNot’s List of Key Trends For Retailers in 2019 | Guest Contribution

The exciting first part of a guest contribution series for Omni Talk from Michelle Skupin, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at RetailMeNot. Enjoy!

After strong sales during the holiday season, retailers are hardly resting on their laurels. Instead, they’re responding to new trends and technologies so that they can keep pace with shoppers’ fast-changing expectations.

In a survey of 200 senior retail marketers and 5,000 consumers, RetailMeNot found ten themes that will be the driving force behind marketers’ strategies, including where retailers will be focusing their attention and resources in 2019. Here are the first three of the key areas.

1. Standing Up For Social Values Worth The Risk

Amid today’s deep divisions over social issues, speaking out on the causes that matter to them might seem risky for retailers. But we’re now seeing that the opposite is true.

Eighty-seven percent of retailers say taking a stand on social issues is worth the risk, and 83 percent say not taking a stand hurts the bottom line.

Retailers must decide where their values lie and then be vocal about those values in order to secure the loyalty of their target customers. RetailMeNot found that 61 percent of consumers would recommend a brand that aligns with their social values to friends, and 52 percent would spend more money with that retailer.

Belief-based buying is particularly popular with Millennials — the demographic that most retailers are centering their marketing and advertising efforts on in 2019. (Sorry, Gen Z. You may have a lot of media buzz right now, but only 5 percent of retailers are focusing on you this year.)

Some of the most popular brands with Millennials are responding to this generation’s desire to connect over values. For example, when unsupervised visitors damaged national parks during the recent government shutdown, REI spoke out, donated to park restoration efforts and encouraged its customers to help clean up the parks.

2. Voice Shopping Takes Center Stage for Retailers

Only 16 percent of Americans have made a purchase through a smart speaker, which may be due to the technology still being so nascent. But here’s a sure sign retailers believe those numbers are about to explode: 96 percent of them are investing in technology that will allow consumers to shop for their brands via smart speakers.

When voice shopping takes off in popularity, retailers will want their own capabilities in place so as not to be reliant on Amazon or Google, which take a share of sales. Almost all retailers (96 percent) agree that the two tech giants hold substantial influence over the products being purchased through their smart-home devices. Retailers not looking to compete in this space are re-evaluating new ways to personalize online advertising as well as strategies for bringing more consumers into their store fronts.

3. Try-Before-You-Buy Surpasses BOPIS

Retailers that offered the option to buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) were a hit with convenience-loving consumers during holiday 2018. But an even easier shopping option could overshadow BOPIS in 2019. Try-before-you-buy (TBYB) services will become more popular than BOPIS over the next couple of years, 63 percent of retailers believe. In fact, they’re banking on it: 50 percent have a budget dedicated specifically to developing these initiatives.

Think of try-before-you-buy as the next step beyond consulting reviews (which savvy shoppers love doing) before making a purchase. Instead of relying on others’ opinions, you’re discovering for yourself whether the product is truly the best one for you before purchasing it — all from the comfort of your own home.

TBYB lets you order items online, try them out and then pay for them only if you decide to keep them. You return the items you don’t want, and your credit card is not charged. Some of these retailers (like TBYB pioneer StitchFix), work on a subscription-like model with a monthly fee that can be credited toward purchases.

The ease of TBYB encourages buying. It incentivizes more than one in three consumers (35 percent) to try new products they had not considered before. It also has the potential to build customer loyalty. That’s what Net-A-Porter is doing with its invitation-only service, which lets EIPs (extremely important people — aka high-spending customers) order up to 30 pieces to try at home for seven days period before buying.

Cause marketing, voice shopping and TBYB all show that continuous innovation and creativity are a necessity for retailers. We will continue to see their impact throughout 2019.

Chris Walton is an accomplished Senior Executive with nearly 20 years of success within the retail and retail technology industries. He is well-versed in merchandising, store operations, inventory management, product design, forecasting, e-commerce, pricing and promotions, and tech product development.

Chris was most recently a Vice President with Target, where he led the retailer’s Store of the Future project and also ran the Target’s home furnishing division for e-commerce. He previously worked for GAP, Inc., as a Distribution Analyst and Manager.

Chris holds a BA in Economics and History from Stanford University, and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

He likes to dress as Darth Vader for Halloween, and his wife also frequently asks him to ask Alexa, "to turn off the music."

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