For the past four days, New York City’s Javits Centre played host to some 27,000 delegates from around the world, all of whom packed themselves into its halls, atriums, and meeting rooms to gain a sneak peek at what’s coming next for international retail. WhichPLM was there, and ahead of our extensive coverage over the coming weeks, our Editor, fresh from the big apple’s biggest gathering of retail professionals, has set out his top five trends that will influence the retail, footwear, apparel and consumer goods market over the coming year.
Despite some nasty high-street casualties being reported here in the UK this week, statistics from the US (and insight from industry leaders at this year’s show) suggest that bricks and mortar retail is beginning to see a return to form. No doubt these figures have been bolstered by the holiday shopping frenzy, but it still seems as though more and more retailers are beginning to realise the value of channel differentiation and the importance of the customer experience. In a world where savvy shoppers seek to “live” brands as much as they do buy products, offline retail represents a renewed opportunity to innovate, recast your products and principles in a new light, and to help re-establish in-store shopping as a truly unique opportunity for customers to engage with the brands they love.
Needless to say, as offline and online retail (not to mention mobile) become distinct “experiential” entities – playing to their own strengths and each doing their part to ensure that cohesive brand message is on offer however customers choose to find it – there will be opportunities for the logistical aspects of each to merge, and to deliver compounded benefits to retailers and shoppers alike. The ability for customers to order products from an online catalogue in-store (and vice versa) is just one example of the ways in which forward-thinking retailers and brands can converge their payment, stock allocation, product development and more to deliver a seamless selling experience across flagship stores, websites, and mobile commerce.
Some people would argue that mobile belongs in a list of last year’s trends, or perhaps those from the year before. To leave it out of the list for 2013, though, would be to downplay just how far mobile applications on both sides of the retailer / customer divide have come, and to play up what I see as “easy” mobile experiences – those that simply adjust the web for a smaller screen. Instead, 2013 will see a preponderance of mobile applications designed with specific use cases in mind, rather than just delivering a scattershot interpretation of e-commerce or product lifecycle management on a smartphone or tablet. With truly bespoke mobile solutions, retailers are able to deliver incentives tailored to the needs of a particular consumer, accept payments through mobile services like Square, and conduct everything from factory audits to sample approval without going near a computer or launching a cobbled-together web portal. Mobile may have been at the forefront of retail and product development trends for some time, but considered, curated, and personalised mobile applications are the shape of things to come.
In today’s new retail paradigm, only the most cachet-laden brands have the luxury of telling their customers what they should buy and how they ought to buy it. And even these venerable institutions are reaching to social media and consumer analytics to gain insight into shoppers’ behaviour and engagement. For everybody else, this year will solidify the already-quite-concrete message that, today, your customers dictate the development of your brand like never before. Services like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other, bespoke consumer engagement portals are (perhaps even more than on the high street) where your products succeed or fail, and where your customers become either your biggest evangelists or your most vocal detractors – all based upon the ways in which you choose to engage with them, learn from them, and allow their perception of your brand to colour your future avenues of product development, advertising, store experience and more.
The vital thing to note about all of the points above is that, in order to succeed, they rely on vast swathes of product and brand data being accessible to designers, garment technicians, marketing departments, mobile developers, flagship store managers, and executives. That information must be accurate, contemporaneous, and comprehensive, since it will serve as the lifeblood of your company in ways you have perhaps never envisaged. Of the PLM solutions on display at NRF 2013, all placed at least some emphasis on the unifying potential of PLM. And with the expo halls jumbled with point of sale, supply chain management, store design, virtual wardrobes, and a dizzying array of other disconnected solutions, it became increasingly obvious to me the role that PLM will, by necessity, play in enabling most – if not all – of these solutions to comfortably co-exist within a single enterprise, drawing on the fabled “single version of the truth”.
For more NRF 2013 coverage, keep watching WhichPLM over the next fortnight as we run our exhaustive show report, exclusive photographs, and fascinating interviews with the industry figures who are helping these top five trends and more become reality.