It’s an understatement to say that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the world of retail. Companies throughout the industry have made big changes over the past 20 months to cope with pandemic-related disruptions, supply chain challenges, and evolving consumer behavior.
Some of those changes are here to stay and will inform the future of the industry. Here are a few of the future trends in retail design and merchandising we expect to see take root in the coming years.
Customers Are Looking for Life Improvement and Connection
During the pandemic, we have certainly seen a strong desire for the products our clients design, manufacture, and distribute. Any products in the recreational or home improvement arena have been highly sought after since about 90 days into the pandemic, and that trend looks to have staying power.
The pandemic has taught us all that the future can be uncertain. Because of this, the desire to check off bucket-list items — like buying a boat— is strong. And since many of us have spent so much time at home over the past year and a half, the desire to improve our surroundings through working on our yards or upgrading our water has also increased.
In addition, we see a true desire in today’s consumers for a connection to expert advice and confirmation of purchase. We also see less inventory than ever out in the marketplace, which is changing the retail sales process.
The Inventory Model Is Evolving
The inventory model used for decades in the retail industry is rapidly evolving. For years, sales of high-ticket items like RVs, cars, motorcycles, and boats have relied on masses of inventory on showroom floors. But now, with less inventory available, consumers are more focused on customization.
Through customization of products and experience building, inventory may be less impactful today than, say, the club a consumer joins through their purchase (as with brands like Peloton or Tesla). We see the interaction with the brand growing in both professional and consumer spheres, particularly at the high end of durables.
The role of independent dealers is changing as well. The demand for education, modern experience, and service is at an all-time high and must replace the “inventory first, experience second” model that has been out there for some time.
Commitment to Digital Content Is Crucial
Technology upgrades are impacting the industry as well, especially with respect to the way brands interact with their customers.
A long-time challenge for many brands has been committing to digital content, which can be extremely expensive. Today we are starting to see more of our clients commit, but commit with the purpose of offering education, preference building, sales transactions, and relationship strengthening after the initial sale. In an ideal world, you have use and lifecycle reasons to interact with your customers frequently to build relationships and future sales.
We have four generations of shoppers out there right now, and technology that is evolving quickly. It takes almost constant education and teaching on behalf of the brand to adopt.
One-Off Purchases Are Out — Long-Term Customer Relationships Are In
One of the areas of the industry we foresee the greatest amount of growth in is a true desire for a long-term customer relationship with the brand, rather than the “buy one and go” mentality of the past. It is about a family of products, services, and tools aimed specifically at building lifetime customer value. We see growth coming especially in the areas of offering education and creating experiences for new customers.
Due to increased isolation, consumers are searching for a sense of belonging. Technology was one of the main things that kept us all connected during lockdowns — both in our personal lives and in the business world. Businesses need to make sure they are building and enhancing those relationships, as people are longing for inclusion with something — anything — and embracing changing technology allows for that.
At Miller Wittman, We Help Your Brand Embrace the Future
To help our clients adjust to these changes, we are spending a lot of our time with them focused on strategy. We see a need for brands to be very specific about their go-to-market strategies and tactics right now. Ultimately, we need to understand the true core of what is important to our clients and build retail environments and go-to-market strategies that are aimed at where our clients are going, not where they have been.
We work continuously to stay on top of changes in the retail environment, particularly in involved purchases, which are at the heart and soul of our business. If it takes expertise to sell a product, we revel in figuring out how to create a customer experience. We have also put new processes, controls and timelines in place to account for the supply chain during store build outs. To ensure our clients are successful in today’s market, we work to stay on the cutting edge of understanding substrates, technologies, and customer motivation.