Retail is a hyper-competitive market. It requires business owners to remain constantly vigilant and on the lookout for the next trend, emerging marketing platform or cutting-edge technology that might provide them with a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, not every trend is as promising as it first appears. The best leaders can secure and improve their position in the marketplace by not just keeping a lookout for new trends, but by choosing the right trends to invest in and implement within their business structure.
This is not an easy task. For one thing, there’s a lot of so-called trends that are all occurring simultaneously. Not only does this make it harder to pick the right ones to follow, but it also makes it difficult to identify the newest trends that are hitting the retail world. Often, by the time a business owner catches on to the latest, popular trend, another one is already on the move to dethrone it.
To help you navigate this rapid and confusing cascade of new trends, here are the top retail trends that you should focus your immediate attention on. These are the must-haves if you want to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.
Browse in Store, Buy Online or Research Online, Buy in Store
In past years, shoppers made a choice between visiting a store in person to make a purchase or shopping from a company’s online store. While this is still a choice that customers make, the line is starting to become blurred, thanks to mobile devices. Now, purchases are often made with an element of both the online and brick and mortar stores.
Consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to research and compare prices while they browse products in a store. In fact, it is estimated that 82% of smartphone users use their phones while in a store to research products they are thinking of buying. For retailers, this puts an increased importance on ensuring that you not only have an online store (as was the case before) but that your online store has plenty of information on each product you offer.
Sometimes, this research takes place before the consumer has even walked into your store. Arguably, this is why foot traffic has declined in recent years. The good news, if you do most of your business in the store, is that, even though foot traffic is down, spending is up. Essentially, customers are doing their research before visiting the store, which means they make faster purchasing decisions once they are in the store.
Conversely, some consumers do the opposite of this phenomenon. They visit stores to physically see the products they want to buy online. The majority of these shoppers are trying to take advantage of the bigger savings that online retailers sometimes offer, compared to their brick and mortar counterparts.
Speed Is Still King
The name of the game for retailers has always been speed. How fast can you get customers in and out of the store, with a purchase in their hands? Shorter queue times means you can service more customers and, ultimately, make more sales. Speed is of particular importance today, as consumers are in a bigger rush than perhaps ever before. Not to mention, the customer experience has become one of the greatest competitive differentiators.
Mobile POS systems are being implemented by many businesses, both small and large, to help meet the customer’s demands for speedy checkout times. Traditional retail POS machines had to be fixed and stagnant, but these mobile machines can use a tablet, to finalize purchases, make reservations, check a customer’s account and many more business operations.
These types of iPad POS systems allow customers to be serviced and checked out anywhere in the store, including on the sales floor. This drastically cuts down on queue times, while simultaneously bolstering the customer experience. Additionally, these machines encourage customers to use faster forms of payment, like swiping a card or using a mobile payment app (Google Wallet, Apple Pay), which also hastens the checkout process and cuts time off queues.
Digital Receipts via SMS and Email
While many businesses turned their customers onto digital receipts by informing them that it saved trees, shoppers have begun to see their own benefits of receiving receipts through SMS (text message) or email. For one, it almost guarantees that the receipt will never be lost, which is a lifesaver if you are making a return on an expensive item or need to check the warranty months down the line.
Secondly, digital receipts make for a faster transaction, which, as we mentioned before, is important in retail; there’s no waiting around for the printer to spit the paper receipt out. It’s also more convenient for the customer because they don’t have to stash the receipt in an old shoebox on the off chance they need it later.
The real benefit of digital receipts, however, is in favor of the retailer. When a customer signs up to have his or her receipt emailed, they provide a crucial piece of personal data: their email address. A business can use this as an identifier and begin creating a catalog of that particular customer’s preferences, buying history and more.
Many modern retail POS systems will automatically collect and track this data. By creating reports that detail a customer’s buying history, businesses know what other products to offer that customer, which deals to alert them of and more. Ultimately, this creates a much more personalized customer experience.
Offer a Loyalty and Rewards Program
Loyalty programs have always been one of the most powerful marketing tools to motivate customers to return and make future purchases. For a long time, however, they had one major downside. Only large businesses with many resources could offer and appropriately manage a sophisticated rewards program. Small, brick and mortar stores, on the other hand, had limited options and most had to settle for the traditional (and arguably overused) stamp card.
Thanks to apps, third-party services, and mobile POS software, offering a loyalty and rewards program to retain customers is far easier. Now, even the smallest business can create a sophisticated, point-based program that lets customers earn benefits the more they shop. These programs are especially impactful when they are integrated into your POS system because reward-based discounts and other benefits can be applied directly and don’t require the customer to keep track of their own rewards.
A loyalty program stimulates business because it encourages customers to return again and again. The more they spend, the more points or rewards are earned, which can be applied to future purchases. Thus, they feel obligated to return and make another purchase to utilize these earned benefits… which earns them more points and encourages a third visit and then a fourth and fifth. You get the point.
Manage Inventory Efficiently
One of the toughest stressors that can negatively damage a customer’s experience in a store is when an item isn’t available. Imagine you’ve done all this research at home and your expectation is to arrive at the store, find your item, buy it and go on with your day. Except, the product isn’t there. Alternatively, imagine going to your favorite restaurant because you are craving a particular menu item, but then having to choose something else because they don’t have a certain ingredient in stock.
Managing inventory is not only critical (as the above cases demonstrate), but it can also be difficult. Luckily for today’s business owners, there are a number of tools and systems that can be implemented to make inventory management almost automatic. The right retail POS system will notify you when the stock is low, which gives you ample time to resupply before your business actually runs out.
The other huge benefit to having your inventory management integrated with your mobile POS system is inventory reports can be easily paired with other sets of data, like sales, to gain critical insights. Part of what makes an item go out of stock is its popularity. But, popularity comes and goes.
This type of data analysis allows you to better predict what items are going to become popular when. This is particularly useful for a restaurant because wasting food is a huge concern. Not only will it ensure that the popular tastes of the month are in-stock and ready to be prepared, but the right inventory insights can also help cut costs by reducing the amount of food that is thrown out.
These trends are where any business should begin. With any luck, you’re already working at, or have achieved, a few of them. That means the task at hand now involves perfecting your current efforts and ensuring that everything is working towards helping you reach your current business objectives. And, keeping an eye on future trends, of course.
If you haven’t begun to adopt any of these trends or there are still many on the list that are eluding your business, it may be time to think about upgrading your POS system and bringing your business into the Digital Age. With the right mobile setup, you can check off many of the items on this list. You’ll speed up queue times, have the chance to offer a loyalty program, be able to learn about customers through their digital receipts and manage inventory in new and more efficient ways.