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AI Retail trends Technology

Perpetual Disruption Requires Perpetual Innovation

If you’re not innovating, you’re standing still and that is the most dangerous place to be in retail. Perpetual disruption requires perpetual innovation.

The most successful retailers today are those that reject the status quo. They foster a culture of innovation and fast failure. Everything they do begins and ends with the customer. They understand that they have to keep moving, constantly evolving their proposition, and experimenting with new technologies in order to stay relevant in this digital era.

That’s easier said than done in the current climate. Ongoing cost pressures and soft consumer demand mean that retailers must deal with more pressing, short-term challenges. In times like these, innovation can often get put to the back burner. 

However, now more than ever, it’s essential that retailers embrace technology as a means of driving efficiencies as well as enhancing the customer experience. I keep coming back to the phrase ‘tech-enabled human touch’. In my view, this is what’s going to separate the retail winners from the losers going forward. Store associates are a retailer’s most valuable asset. Equipping them with the right digital tools means that they can quickly address any customer pain points and cut friction from the in-store experience (ie. help a shopper to find an item on the shelf, reorder an item that is out of stock, or check a customer out on the spot with a mobile POS device).

And, with greater transparency around a customer’s shopping habits across both physical and digital channels, it also enables staff to offer a more deeply customised experience. This is only going to improve as retailers look to AI to power those more personalised recommendations. 

And things are moving quickly. At a client event in Cannes earlier this month, Manhattan Associates CEO Eddie Capel reminded us that it took Netflix ten years to get to 100 million users. It took TikTok 9 months. And for ChatGPT – just two months.

Generative AI will transform retail. This is an industry that is accustomed to a certain level of disruption, but today technology is progressing at a mind-boggling pace. Many believe we are on the cusp of another ‘smartphone moment’ where an immersive digital world is about to transform our lives.

But will we all be donning VR headsets and living in the metaverse? I don’t think so. When exploring these new disruptive technologies, it can be difficult to separate the hype from reality. When it comes to the metaverse, there is much scepticism and general befuddlement. What is it? How do you enter it? Is anyone even there?

It’s difficult to define right now because it’s still being built. And if you ask those who are building it what the metaverse is, you’ll get a ton of different answers. This means that to the layperson consumer it can be a difficult, almost impossible, concept to grasp.

However, just as retailers have digitised their physical stores, they must now turn their focus to making our digital experiences more immersive. Today, online shopping is still fairly one-dimensional. It’s transactional. But it’s moving in the right direction – it’s becoming more engaging and discovery-led. For example, retailers are increasingly using video and 3D images (often AI-generated) to create more contextual experiences for online shoppers. Augmented reality (AR) is bridging the gap between physical and digital retail, especially in beauty, luxury, footwear and home. Virtual shopping consultations are connecting online shoppers with in-store staff, again harnessing expertise to elevate the customer experience. Liveshopping, too, is picking up momentum and social commerce is taking the discoverable and making it transactional. People used to find products; today products find people.

If we look even further into the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins. Our AI-powered shopping assistants will make our lives easier and more connected than ever before (Bill Gates even thinks they will kill off Amazon and Google search). Virtual showrooms will never replace the physical store but they will become the next best thing. And spatial commerce has the potential to completely redefine the online shopping experience.

The future is wildly exciting for retail. Don’t get left behind.


This commentary originally featured in the KPMG/Retail Next Retail Think Tank Q3 whitepaper. Read in full.

Categories
Consumer Retail trends

Natalie Berg Joins KPMG/RetailNext Retail Think Tank

RetailNext, the leading analytics solution for bricks-and-mortar retailers, today announced that it will partner with the Retail Think Tank to produce its quarterly Retail Health Index, alongside existing co-chair and global consultant, KPMG.

First established in 2006 by KPMG and market research leader, Ipsos, the Retail Health Index is the industry’s only comprehensive, sector-level benchmark of retail performance. With almost three decades of data, encompassing pivotal moments that defined and redefined retail – from the 2008 Financial Crash and ensuing ‘Credit Crunch’ to Brexit, Covid-19, the post-pandemic recovery and, most recently, the cost-of-living crisis – the Retail Health Index assesses the sector’s key performance indicators, including demand, margin and cost.

Each quarter, it is independently scored by Retail Think Tank members – an elite advisory board comprising industry experts, thought leaders and analysts, including Nick Bubb, former GlobalData Director Maureen Hinton, and NielsenIQ’s Mike Watkins – to benchmark retail health for the past three months, and predict how performance will evolve in the next quarter. This year author and Retail Technology Magazine publisher, Miya Knights, and retail consultant and author, Natalie Berg, will join the panel as new members, bringing fresh insight and perspective to the wealth of expertise and industry know-how of the Retail Think Tank advisory board.

Following RetailNext’s acquisition of Ipsos’ people-counting and footfall solution, Retail Performance, in November 2022, which had formerly co-produced the Retail Health Index, RetailNext will now produce the quarterly index in collaboration with co-chair, KPMG.

Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail at KPMG, commented: “From its very inception back in 2006, the Retail Health Index has been a formative resource for retail businesses and leaders, aiming to quantify the knowledge of the Retail Think Tank members in a systematic way, whilst also providing an assessment of the overall retail health, for which there was traditionally no ‘official’ data.”

“Having been the voice reporting on retail health for almost three decades, we’re excited to welcome RetailNext as our co-chair for the Retail Health Index, and through the partnership we look forward to continuing to help retailers set a course for success as they navigate the multifaceted pressures, challenges and opportunities the market continues to present,” he added.

Gary Whittemore, Head of Sales, EMEA & APAC at RetailNext, commented: “With the fast-moving and multi-dimensional challenges facing retailers, impacting every area and function of their businesses, the Retail Health Index is not just a valuable indication of sector health. Crucially, it also dissects and contextualises the key factors impacting performance, drawing on the extensive knowledge and expertise of the Retail Think Tank membership. This results in a quarterly playbook for retailers, which outlines actionable insights and strategies to create competitive advantage in the context of the market, to drive retail businesses forward and readdress the balance of health back in the retailer’s favour.”

As well as being available online, a digest of the results of the Retail Health Index, including wide-ranging insight, contextual analysis and exclusive data-sets on key performance metrics, is available in a quarterly report, which is free for retailers to download.

Categories
Retail trends

Introducing Retail Disrupted

I’m so excited to share the news that my podcast is now live and available through:

🎙 Apple

🎙 Spotify

🎙Google

In the first three episodes, I cover Sephora’s return to the UK, discount grocers and why I think sometime in the next decade Amazon will go from being the disruptor to the disrupted.

Here’s the brief. Let me know what you think by emailing hello@nbkretail.com.

The retail sector is no stranger to disruption. Technology continues to disrupt all aspects of shopping – from on-demand groceries that turn up in 15 minutes to in-store experiences becoming more seamless, connected, and relevant. Today, shoppers are hyper-informed, digitally-enabled and hungry for shopping experiences that reflect their 21st century needs.

Hosted by Retail Analyst and Author Natalie Berg, Retail Disrupted will help you stay on the of the latest industry developments, trends and innovations from the UK and around the globe. Each week, we’ll get under the hood of retail, covering topics such as:

  • The convergence of physical and digital commerce
  • How tech can enhance the customer experience
  • Reinventing bricks & mortar retail
  • The future of e-commerce
  • Macroeconomic and sociodemographic shifts
  • Shopper loyalty

For more, visit www.nbkretail.com 

Categories
Consumer E-commerce Retail trends Technology

2023 Predictions: A UK Retail Rollercoaster

‘Permacrisis’ was declared the word of 2022, so what might 2023 bring?

There are reasons for cautious optimism, but first retailers are going to have to buckle up and brace themselves for more turbulence.

Spending more to buy less

Let’s briefly recap on retail’s Golden Quarter. Christmas was not the wipe-out that many of us had expected. After a bumpy couple of years with Covid cancelling Christmas, consumers were determined not to let illness, inflationary pressures or industrial action hamper their celebrations.

There are some caveats here: soft comparatives (remember Omicron?); supermarket success came at the expense of the hospitality sector; and perhaps most importantly much of the growth we saw was fuelled by inflation – in December retail sales were up in value terms but volumes continued to fall. In other words, consumers are spending more to buy less.

Inflation might be starting to ease, but consumers are still a long way from feeling the benefit. This ongoing erosion of spending power makes for a pretty gloomy outlook: consumer confidence tanked again in January, returning to a near 50-year low. Looking ahead, the deterioration in consumer sentiment is likely to persist throughout the first half of the year, at least. A reminder to retailers that value will remain firmly top of mind, purchases will continue to be incredibly considered, and big-ticket discretionary buys will be delayed.

Trimming the fat

The spending hangover is here and while there’s never a good time for subdued consumer demand, it’s especially painful when retailers are simultaneously grappling with their own cost inflation. No one is immune: this dangerous combination of soft demand and rising costs is impacting even the most bulletproof retailers. Amazon, for example, is laying off 6% of its global workforce, closing warehouses and putting the brakes on bricks & mortar expansion. 2023 will be a year of operational efficiencies for retailers, in many ways mirroring their own customers’ behaviour by trying to do more with less.

The other immediate challenge for retailers will be shifting excess stock, the result of over-ordering during the supply chain crisis and exacerbated by the current consumer weakness. With a glut of inventory and sluggish demand, retailers are left with little choice but to slash prices. But wait, haven’t they been doing that for the past four months? Aside from the obvious margin implications here, there is also the risk that shoppers are becoming desensitised as promotion fatigue sets in – or even worse, that they forget what it’s like to buy at full price.   

2023 opportunities: bricks & mortar resurgence and immersive digital experiences

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2023 is going to be another year of instability and uncertainty. But the retail industry is nothing if not resilient and I believe there are reasons to be optimistic. Stores are back, they’re repurposed and better than ever. We’ve been thrust into the future thanks to the pandemic-induced digitization of bricks & mortar retail, levelling the playing field and shifting the industry’s perception. Stores were once considered liabilities in this digital era, but they’ve been reconfigured for 21st century shopping and are now essential assets.

When it comes to customer experience, I believe that ‘tech-enabled human touch’ will be the next battleground, as retailers recognise the many opportunities that come with equipping your staff with the right digital tools. Mediocre experiences have become a thing of the past. Meanwhile, automation will climb higher up the agenda as retailers look to achieve operational efficiencies, despite the initial outlay, while simultaneously addressing the current labour shortage. In 2023, we’ll see more trials of autonomous vehicles delivering our goods and robots working alongside humans in warehouses.

Shoppers will continue to abandon e-commerce in droves now that we have returned to some semblance of normality. Some categories like food, fashion and furniture will never transition online like the rest of retail has, but it’s clear that as an industry we have been propelled towards a more digital world. And over the next decade, new, immersive digital experiences will redefine our perception of e-commerce – this is going to be the next big thing in retail. I’m still a bit of a metaverse sceptic. I know barriers can be knocked down but right now how many of us really have a VR headset kicking around at home? However, it’s clear that e-commerce is ready to evolve. Sure, all of the friction has been sucked out and today the experience is wildly accessible, slick, effortless. But is it any fun? Not really. It’s still far too transactional, too one-dimensional. This will change.

The next stage of e-commerce is all about immersion, discovery, curation, hyper-personalisation and escapism. And it’s already happening with augmented reality, virtual showrooms, live shopping, social commerce, 3D product views/virtual try-ons, video shopping consultations, among others. In the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins.

Our hybrid way of living is here to stay and while businesses may still be acclimatising to the consequent shifts in demand patterns, longer term this will present new and exciting customer engagement opportunities. Despite tight budgets, investment in sustainability will remain high on the agenda in 2023, while opportunities to tackle the often-neglected post-purchase experience and explore new revenue streams such as retail media and third-party marketplaces will accelerate. In summary, short-term volatility will persist while consumers batten down the hatches, but as always the future of retail is bright for those who are willing to evolve.

Categories
Retail trends

Black Friday 2022: Less Frenzied, More Focused

We went from Black Friday to Black November, but this year I’d say we’re having a Black Autumn. There has been a constant stream of discounts since September. This is particularly true in fashion, where a combination of unseasonably warm weather and cost-of-living pressures have really dampened demand. Yes, people are hungry for bargains, but they have to be genuine ones. Shoppers have become desensitised to all of the “20% off everything” sales. Blanket discounting is causing promotion fatigue.

The appeal of Black Friday has also been diluted because shoppers have cottoned on to the fact that it is a manufactured event and prices are not always at their lowest. Black Friday is designed to drive impulse purchases and instil a sense of FOMO. But according to Which?, only one in seven Black Friday deals offer a genuine discount.

Electricals is typically an exception here, as retailers have more margin to play with, but this category is likely to underwhelm this year. Consumers spent the pandemic kitting out their home offices and entertainment spaces so demand for new technology will be much weaker than normal.

Meanwhile the World Cup – and particularly the timing of tonight’s England vs USA match – will also add to the Black Friday fizzle. Retailers are likely to extend the discounting into the weekend, as Friday night celebrations keep people from shopping.

I’d also like to think that there has been a deep societal shift, as more and more shoppers reject the idea of excess consumerism. Let’s face it, Black Friday is gluttonous. It’s wasteful. It drives up returns and millions of products ultimately end up in landfill.

Despite all of this, shoppers will be out in full force today, sussing out the deals but in a more restrained manner compared to previous years. Black Friday will be less frenzied, more focused. Big-ticket purchases will be more considered and this year, more than ever, shoppers will be utilising the technology in their back pockets to check prices and ensure they’re getting a bona fide bargain.

There will inevitably be those that get caught up in the adrenaline-filled rush of Black Friday shopping. Buyer’s remorse will be strong this year, and retailers should be preparing for a mountain of returns.

Categories
Consumer E-commerce Fulfilment Retail trends Technology

Recalibrating for the Next Normal

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates


Greetings from Germany! I’m here at the Manhattan Exchange in Berlin and am super excited to share with you a new report that I’ve authored for Manhattan Associates: Recalibrating for the Next Normal.

The pandemic may have accelerated digital transformation strategies, but what comes next? We spoke to 3,500 consumers and 700 leading retailers across the US and Europe to get a better sense of the consumer landscape and the capabilities required as retailers recalibrate for this next stage.

The findings of this international research study highlight the need for retailers to continue to keep up with the pace of evolving consumer expectations. It also revealed a retail landscape where the lines between physical and digital commerce are becoming increasingly opaque and complicated. 

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Download the full report.

Categories
Amazon Retail trends Store of the future Technology

Amazon UK debuts its till-free concept

Future of e-commerce? Stores, of course!

Big media day yesterday covering the news that Amazon has debuted its checkout-free store concept in London. 

This is watershed moment for U.K. retail. Amazon is known for disrupting the status quo, raising customer expectations and forcing competitors to raise their game. Remember Amazon is a tech company first, retailer second. The big question is – does Amazon really want to become Britain’s biggest supermarket or perhaps it’s more lucrative to license this tech to… everyone else? Either way, Amazon transformed the checkout experience online and will now do the same in-store. Goodbye, friction!

If you haven’t yet had a chance to visit the Ealing store, there is a photo gallery and additional commentary available on Retail Week.
Stay tuned for further analysis.
Cover photo: Amazon
Categories
Consumer Retail trends

Clicks and Cliques: Understanding Modern Shopper Tribes

Knowing your customer is essential in the best of times. In a post-pandemic world, it will be the difference between survival and failure.

I had the pleasure to work with Klarna on their latest report Clicks and Cliques: Understanding Modern Shoppers where we identified five distinct shopper tribes for the post-COVID world. Based on a survey of 4,000+ consumers across Europe, the UK, USA and Australia, the report examines how shopping behaviour has evolved and how retailers can stay relevant in a fast-moving world.

Good value for money is naturally a top priority for shoppers this year, with more than two-thirds (67%) suggesting it has become more important since the start of the pandemic. It’s followed by promotions and deals (60%), a good reputation and trustworthiness (60%) and having a wide range of products available (58%) — perhaps fuelled, in part, by shortages on the shelves earlier in the year.

Over half of respondents said that an easy returns process (55%) and next or same day delivery options (51%) have become more important this year — naturally coinciding with 49% doing more of their shopping online and 44% doing most or all their shopping online now.

The ability to pay flexibly has also grown in importance, according to 45% of respondents — and this can be a real dealbreaker. Four in ten (42%) prefer to shop from brands or retailers that offer flexible payment options, while three in ten (32%) won’t shop from those that don’t.

Commenting on the research, Luke Griffiths, CCO at Klarna, said: “This year’s events have transformed the way we browse and buy, reinventing our relationships with brands and retailers and accelerating change at an unprecedented rate. Merchants must keep a finger on the pulse of their customers wants and needs and adapt their products and service offers accordingly to build a connection with shoppers to drive loyalty and, ultimately, sales.” 

Natalie Berg, Retail Analyst and Founder of NBK Retail, added: “The retail industry is no stranger to disruption, yet nothing in our lifetime has jolted the industry like Covid. As retailers look to navigate the new normal, resilience and agility will be essential for survival. There will be no return to the status quo. The days of being everything to everyone are well and truly over: in order to find their tribe, retailers need to be bold about who they are and what they stand for. Opportunities have emerged, enabling retailers to reimagine both physical and digital commerce for the future.”

Download the full report here.

Categories
Retail trends Store of the future

The Retail Exchange Podcast: 2020 Review & 2021 Predictions

Natalie Berg joins Karl McKeever, MD of Visual Thinking, as co-host of The Retail Exchange‘s final podcast episode of the year. 

If you were trying to end this year by winning a prize for its greatest understatement, you could describe 2020 as ‘eventful’. It is difficult in many respects to argue that 2020 was an especially good year. Emerging trends didn’t just gather momentum, they marched forward to turn the industry on its head in ways we could never have imagined. For retail, it’s been a year of contrasting fortunes. Some have faltered. Others have thrived.

To set the tone, we revisit some of the interviews and discussions that have shaped The Retail Exchange’s podcast episodes in 2020, with special co-hosts Karl McKeever and Natalie Berg reflecting on the past year – the challenges faced, things we’ve learned, the opportunities taken – and looking ahead at what’s to come in what we all hope will be a brighter 2021.

You can listen to the full episode here.

Categories
Retail trends

Future of Retail 2020

What will shopping look like in 2021, 2025 and 2030? I had the pleasure of speaking to Raconteur for this annual supplement in The Times. Always an interesting read but especially this year given that we are in the middle of a pandemic that has upended the industry like nothing before. You can catch my thoughts in the following sections:

You can download the full PDF here.