[RETHINK Retail] — Years ago, the retail industry told customers what they should buy, what fashion should look like and how people should run their homes. But in recent years, consumers have demanded that retailers listen more and take note of what works and what won’t. Health and wellness are top priorities. Technology is fighting its way to the top. Consumers are demanding more inclusivity both online and in person. And sustainability fashion options are making their way onto store racks. Check out what disruptive retail trends happened in 2019 that will lead the way in this brand new decade.
Drivers go faceless. Amazon Prime Air had its first Prime Air Delivery on December 7, 2016. Fully autonomous with no pilot, and delivery took 13 minutes. And while Uber and Lyft are currently responsible for clogging up to 13.4 percent of all vehicle miles, retailers are leaning away from putting more drivers on the road. Major players like Walmart have partnered with Nuro’s self-driving cars to deliver groceries in Houston. With Walmart servicing 200 million customers across more than 11,000 worldwide stores, this could be the trigger that makes other stores choose to save money on human employees and invest even more in technology. While this may be great news for the environment, it could put a lot of independent contractors out of work.
Robots take over busy work. Come February 2020, Walmart customers may run across one of the 1,860 self-driving robots cleaning up 4,700 of their stores. Maybe they’ll see Bossa Nova robots shelf-scanning inventory at 350 of their stores. Bots will also be at 1,700 stores to scan arrival inventory packages from Walmart delivery trucks. Although it’s not open to the public, Amazon’s fulfillment center already has orange robots doing the kind of work that was once assigned to blue-collar warehouse employees—and in a fraction of the time. While Target (and smaller retail chains) may not find robot employees to be profitable, tech help isn’t completely off the table with their self-checkout stations at the growing number of Target mini- stores.
Eco-friendly consumers won’t be ignored. While there are mixed opinions on whether fast fashion is heavily embraced or too heavily marketed, environmentally friendly consumers are looking for new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. High-end department store Macy’s has already partnered with second-hand chain thredUP in 2019. H&M’s Conscious and Zara’s Join Life collections may have to do some public relations cleanup after Netflix’s “The Patriot Act” highlighted fast fashion retail brands that aren’t as sustainable as they may appear. Meanwhile conscious customers can focus on cause-based brands that put their money where their mouth is. 4Ocean, which removed more than 6 million pounds of plastic and made it to the New Guinness World Records, is but one company with bragging rights. Expect more.
Healthy retail has arrived. In a world of telepsychology and virtual doctors on demand, consumers are focused on convenience. So it makes sense that Warby Parker, an online prescription glasses company, would create daily discount contacts through Scout. Meanwhile Walgreens Boots Alliance and The Kroger Co. partnered up for a new venture, Retail Procurement Alliance, which could introduce their own private brands of beauty and personal care products as well as over-the-counter medication. Additionally, CVS executives are masterminding ways to capitalize on their retail locations and acquisition with Aetna. A coordinated care pilot for knee replacements and plan was already tested, and hip replacement and other oncology trials are rumored to be coming soon. At nationwide CVS HealthHUBs locations, health professionals are working on expanded services in chronic disease management, nutritional counseling, aromatherapy, sleep apnea products and more.
Artificial intelligence is determined to know you. Hackers are undoubtedly challenging consumers’ confidence in “security” products such as Amazon Ring and Alexa, as well as Google Home. But while consumers have a love-hate relationship with AI, smart home technology products continue to get upgrades. Energy-efficient and sensor lights are doing more than just saving money on the light bill; they can be programmed to alert users of instant messages or glow before notifying users of breaking weather forecasts. Refrigerators are becoming digital grocery lists, keeping track of when refreshments are low. The inventory in online appliance stores, as well as in brick-and-mortar, is getting smarter before consumers even have time to remodel.
Gender identity, inclusion and diversity become a priority, not a perk. Victoria’s Secret canceling its annual fashion show, which has been around since 1995, was a pretty startling business decision to make in 2019. But over the years, both the retailer and the fashion show has lost its sizzle. Meanwhile, pop star Rihanna’s “Savage x Fenty Show” that aired on Amazon Prime’s streaming channel gave 100K Prime members the opportunity to see a more inclusive show with transgender models, plus-sized models, more women of color (specifically African-American women) and a performance-based fashion show as opposed to the usual catwalk. While the latter beauty and fashion company is projected to make $150 million after already securing $70 million from investors, Victoria’s Secret continues to lose money and has closed more than 50 stores in 2019. Old Navy, Target and Nike are just a few retail stores that are making a point of broadening their marketing representation and even their mannequins, which can be found in plus-sized versions.
Grocery stores keep growing. Under the current governmental administration, the retail industry is preparing itself to lose billions when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are rejected for up to 755K adults. While the future is uncertain for how low-income consumers will continue to be able to afford basic nutritional needs in April 2020, retailers are certainly doing their due diligence to try to make prices more feasible. Aldi’s, Target, Walmart and Kroger Food stores have been creating budgeting deals already. Healthy food (and a major increase in vegan and vegetarian options in fast food restaurants) options are becoming more affordable. Whole Foods Market customers aren’t burning the same “whole paycheck” hole in their pockets with the help of Amazon Prime savings. And retailers such as Walmart with its MoneyCard and Amazon are incorporating cash-only purchases and Amazon Store Cards to work with consumer budgets’ needs. While grocery store aisles are growing in retail stores that were never particularly known for them (i.e. dollar-value stores, gas stations), retailers are undoing the belief that they must only sell one kind of item.