The Five Retail Trends That Almost Certainly, Probably Won't Happen in 2018

As we look toward what 2018 has in store for us, many experts have started to offer their predictions for retail.

Here, Derek O’Carroll, Brightpearl CEO provides a unique take on the well-tread predictions piece with his thoughts on five hotly debated trends that won’t come to pass in 2018.

1. Social commerce becomes THE dominant sales channel

Social commerce is beginning to find its way. A recent global (US) survey of business owners revealed that 25% sell through Facebook, and 40% sell through social media as a whole. Platforms such as Instagram are increasingly becoming a shop window for retailers, with more than 30% of Instagram users admitting to buying items after seeing them in photos or videos on the app.

However, while more than 38% of 18-34 year olds would like to purchase items directly from Instagram, this number falls to less than 10 percent for older age groups. This trend suggests that social commerce, while an important platform, won’t suddenly dominate sales in 2018. 

2. The End for the Independent Retailer

The Independent Retailer, for decades, has teetered on endangered species status.  Retail giants like Walmart and Amazon continue to trample the landscape with broad selections and low prices making it increasingly difficult to compete.

Despite predictions to the contrary, I don’t foresee 2018 being the end for the independent merchant. Consumers’ demonstrated  level of ‘big box fatigue’ around mega retailers will keep independent merchants living well for now.

As shoppers, we’re increasingly looking for individual (and ideally local), stylized brands that resonate with us.

This provides independent merchants with an opportunity to compete and get ahead of competition, however large. Creating unique customer experiences is key and with customer insights more widely available and accessible to businesses of all sizes, it’s easier to do.

We work with merchants who are thriving; their resilience and success are a result of using savvy approaches, supported by intelligent systems that help them automate repetitive administrative tasks, allowing them to serve niche audiences and deliver the personalized experiences and immediacy that today’s customers expect. 

3. Chatbots become the go-to customer service channel

It’s no secret that in this instant gratification economy, customers demand immediate responsiveness from merchants and expect fast and reliable customer service across all channels.

Customer care is moving quickly to keep up with evolving technological opportunities and chatbots are growing in popularity as they allow brands to improve the consistency of the service they offer,  answer questions 24/7, and provide the quick and efficient communication that customers demand.

So, will all retailers switch to chatbot-enhanced support to resolve all their customer problems? Not in 2018 they won’t. There remains significant challenges facing merchants, in particular around empathy and emotional intelligence.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with a company without interacting with a single human, and that seems a more sensible timeline for chatbot adoption. 

4. Next day delivery as standard

Speed, convenience and accuracy are now the core qualities that define a top shopping experience. Customers increasingly value the ability to buy quickly and easily and are progressively less patient when it comes to waiting – for order delivery, for arrival of new goods in stores, and for great deals.

Fast and free delivery is the new standard for shoppers, and the need for accurate information about product availability, shipping and inventory counts have become the strategic element to driving bottom-line success and establishing customer loyalty.

However, many merchants do not have the right systems in place to meet this expectation of instant gratification, and that isn’t likely to change in the short-term, despite the necessity.

Those retailers who do step up and give serious thought to retooling how they invest in and operate their supply chain are most likely to remain competitive as we head deeper into 2018. 

5. Voice search

There is little doubt that voice search will become one of the major, broadly adopted innovations of the next decade.

And, after the initial minor advances of controlling your lights and garage doors, the next big implication will be the effect it has on consumer activities, like retailing. Consumers already want a frictionless experience from retail, they want technology to mould into the world around them. Those merchants that prepare for and embrace the trend of ‘getting online’ to ‘living online,’ will find themselves well positioned to best serve their customers.

I believe voice search is at a tipping point, but perceived challenges around accuracy is holding back widespread adoption; just 20% of mobile queries are voice searches, for example.

While I don’t believe 2018 will be the year of ‘voice’, the impact of voice search is growing and soon, retailers will find a way to capitalize on this technology.

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About the Author

Derek is CEO of Brightpearl, responsible for the overall company strategy. Co-author of the Omnichannel Survival Guide, Derek is recognized as a leading retail expert, and his mantra is to deliver on Brightpearl’s mission to automate the back office for today’s merchants. During the 1990’s Derek founded two IT companies, including Ireland’s first online advertising agency building database driven websites and offering SEO services. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President of field sales and marketing for Norton, responsible for $1.7bn of revenue globally. Since Derek became CEO of Brightpearl in spring 2016, the company has seen significant growth in its core customer base, cementing its position as an invaluable asset for mid-sized merchants seeking a competitive edge.