Intention and innovation are on everybody’s shopping list this year. At this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) 2019, the world’s largest retail conference and expo, industry experts confirmed several industry trends we’ve recently explored for 2018 and 2019 – as well as additional influences on what we can expect to see in stores and online shopping carts.

This summary of retail’s biggest event will help retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) suppliers pinpoint key forces the industry faces, so companies can adapt their 2019 business strategies to current trends to stay relevant.

Here are six key trends to watch:

  1. Purpose (& Politics)
    Multiple NRF panellists mentioned that consumers are increasingly seek retailers and brands that have the courage to stand for something meaningful. Consumers seek purpose rather than just products. As consumers increasingly shop according to their personal values, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen expressed, “Retail will be purpose driven” in 2019 and in the years ahead. L2 founder Scott Galloway cited Nike’s recent marketing campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick as an example of fearless marketing, and how taking a stand has paid off for the brand overall. In addition, Patagonia President and CEO Rose Marcario shared that consumers increasingly seek more leaders standing up for things that are aspirational. The trend toward retail companies taking stands on social issues and political issues, including sustainability, will continue to influence consumption.
  2. In-store Tech
    Beyond the talk of Amazon expanding its investment in cashierless Amazon Go stores, robots made a big buzz at the NRF 2019. Giant Food Stores announced its plans to bring googly-eye robotic assistants named Marty to all 172 of its stores. Marty will patrol the stores’ aisles to locate spilled products and, eventually, monitor inventory to prevent out-of-stock merchandise to improve the in-store shopping experience. In addition, more retailers are investing in in-store technologies like beacons for personalized mobile marketing, virtual reality for immersive experiences that wow consumers, and smart shelves for efficient replenishment and reduced out-of-stocks.
  3. Augmented Reality (AR)
    Retailers like The Home Depot are using AR applications to help consumers envision furniture, fixtures and home décor in their homes to ensure a proper fit before they buy. Considering that many products in these categories can be bulky and a challenge to return if consumers are unhappy when the item arrives in their home, AR is a strategic sales tool. Shoppers will soon be able to use the AR feature on Home Depot’s mobile website for greater convenience and consumer confidence. AR is also gaining strategic significance in the beauty and apparel categories because the technology boosts consumer confidence by allowing them to try before they buy, such as digital cosmetics makeovers. Allowing consumers to preview their purchase acts as a win-win by building brand trust sales and consumer satisfaction, and reducing product returns.
  4. Blockchain
    We’ve watched the growing consumer demand for transparency across the retail supply chain. Now Leanne Kemp, CEO at Everledger states consumers demand and deserve the truth – and blockchain allows them to hold brands accountable. That’s because blockchain is an online public ledger for secure, transparent information sharing during a period when consumers increasingly demand to know exactly what is in their food and where their products come from. Venture capitalist Ken Seiff went so far as to boldly proclaim that blockchain will be just as disruptive as the Internet. To date, Walmart is among retail leaders investing in this new technology to gain a competitive advantage through operational efficiencies. Using blockchain helped Walmart track fresh produce from farm to shelf in two seconds compared to six days without blockchain. Beyond these efficiencies, blockchain helps to protect consumers and retail companies against counterfeit products and unsafe or poor quality items, which reduces risk.
  5. Internet of Things (IoT)
    Grocery retailer Kroger teamed up with Microsoft to use IoT smart technology in two pilot stores. Their strategic partnership includes Kroger’s use of digital shelves that use IoT to improve the in-store experience by keeping pricing information up-to-date at the very spot where consumers make their purchase decisions. In addition, consumers at SAP’s digital Beauty Bar booth were able  test a lipstick without it ever touching their lips, thanks to AR technology.
  6. Smart Grocery
    By 2030, industry experts expect retail and technology to be fully enmeshed. By then retail will evolve from smartphones to smart stores, smart homes and smart cities working together. All the data gathered across these venues will allow retailers and suppliers to gain insights to proactively help consumers with their grocery shopping needs.

Although most of these trends are technology-oriented, the clear focus remains the consumer. Knowing these retail trends can help retail decision makers feel more certain about the future of the industry so they can stay competitive and keep up with consumer needs. For more Big Show highlights, check out NRF’s website.

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