Reflecting on Retail: Lessons Learned from 2018 That Can Help Merchants in the Year Ahead

Reflecting back on 2018, it’s fair to say that retailers were kept busy. This is due in part to a lot of variables, but among them include a healthy U.S. economy that had strong employment numbers, enhanced business spending, small business growth and as a result of all of this, strengthened retail sales. Worldwide, retail has seen continued growth, as well, in a variety of ways that has welcomed new opportunities for merchants, streamlined operations and allowed for more robust retail experiences for consumers and businesses alike. Keeping this in mind, below are some of the top lessons learned from 2018 that can help retailers achieve stronger success in the year ahead.  

#1: Entertainment was a key driver of consumer engagement.  

The fusion of retail and entertainment has seemingly always existed. After all, in-store events or online sales is not new news. This said, how retailers are delivering entertainment to their customers has strengthened in 2018 – partly due to technology but also due to customer expectations. No longer do customers just want to shop somewhere but rather, they want to participate in an experience worth remembering. This translates to retailers having had to go above and beyond to truly capture and keep customer attention throughout this past year. From incorporating technology into their store buying experiences, such as Glass Media offers, or strengthening customer loyalty through engaging consumers through social media, there are countless ways merchants have been entertaining their customers in 2018. The catch? Consistency was key to entertaining customers so that consumers had confidence that they’d repeatedly be entertained when visiting their preferred stores of choice.  

#2: Omnichannel experiences proved successful for merchants.  

The path to purchase is not a straight road anymore and thus, savvy merchants in 2018 prepared their stores to connect with customers at all the touchpoints they knew they’d be. From social media, to email marketing, to processing orders, to accepting returns, to identifying when inventory was out of stock due to strong sales and more, retailers that had clarity to all of these actions were the ones that thrived this past year. By operating from an omnichannel perspective, retailers were rewarded with increased sales and more seamless efforts when it came to connecting with and supporting customers in their shopping journeys.

#3: Data empowered retailers in their operations and customer support.  

Through technology and the data that it delivers, merchants gained a stronger clarity to their customers in 2018. This same clarity shed light on operational strengths and weaknesses of merchants, helping retailers to improve their overall operations. And thanks to technology, inventory planning, logistics and customer support were enhanced as well. Using complete cloud-based solutions in particular, retailers were able to be proactive and precise in their future inventory planning efforts while being more reactive to real-time needs. Collectively, data enabled retail buyers to better support customer demands, strengthen their buying efforts and increase their savings and profits along the way.

#4: A focus on flexibility meant retailers could provide better customer service.

Among the other lessons retailers learned in 2018 was that being proactive in response to trends, consumer expectations and inventory availability is a must. In fact, Deloitte Digital recently identified that being “agile, flexible, fluid and interactive” should be a priority for merchants – ultimately helping them to better support consumer behavior and operational realities despite challenges that may exist. This same report identified that “brands that want to win their next customer need to realize and respect their identities.” A stronger consumer understanding is a realization that comes more easily thanks to data – and savvy merchants in 2018 did not underestimate the power of technology helping them to achieve this as well.

#5: Retail continues to be more competitive than ever before.

Finally, another lesson learned from retailers in 2018 is that the competition is tough – like it or not. 2018 reinforced that identifying product trends, gaining clarity to inventory availability, strengthening the logistics of a retailer’s operations and managing the financial components that impact retail are all a must in order to achieve continued retail success. As you look ahead to 2019, keep these factors in mind and be sure to let the lessons learned from 2018 help you along the way.

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About the Author

Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is the Founder and Publisher of Retail Minded, a publication committed to supporting independent retailers through news, education and support, as well as the Co-Founder of the Independent Retailer Conference. Recognized for her expertise in independent retail, Reyhle has published thousands of articles about small business and is the Author of the book “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business” from McGraw-Hill. Additionally, Reyhle has contributed to Forbes, Fiverr, IBM and more, and has been the Spokesperson for Small Business Saturday from American Express since 2014. Learn more about Retail Minded at www.retailminded.com, at @RetailMinded on Twitter or at Facebook.com/RetailMinded.