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Discover The Future of Work

In a year defined by the Coronavirus pandemic, no industry has been impacted more than retail. And many of the changes seem to be just the tip of the iceberg as the industry embarks on a period of rapid evolution. Chief among them is the rise of Remotopia, a widespread and permanent shift to remote working arrangements. This has led to a change in the types of products we demand and the way we get them. Remotopia is the driving force behind the biggest trends affecting retail and consumer goods. The momentous shifts in consumer behavior and pivotal technological advancements are exerting transformative forces on the process of selling goods and services to customers. As these currents of change intermingle, they give way to a set of trends that spell out plausible futures for the realm of retail:

Stores Become Must See TV

Teleshopping began in the 1980s with loquacious hosts selling products via live demonstrations on free-to-air television channels. New platforms, new technologies, and new cultural norms are combining in the rise of the latest iteration of this retail channel. It’s called “Shopatainment.” Coined by tech investor Connie Chan, the term refers to sellers producing entertaining content that leverage their online followings to sell more products. These sellers can be brands or individual celebrities and influencers. While the trend is still gaining traction throughout most of the globe, Shopatainment has found a receptive audience among Chinese consumers. In 2019, the live stream shopping market in China was worth $66 billion and the COVID19 pandemic has been forecast to more than double that figure. There, the trend quickly evolved from lo-fi home videos to studio quality productions on platforms like TaoBao.

As evidenced by sales figures in China, the opportunity for brands is enormous. Major retailers and tech companies in the US now look to mimic that success. Among the most notable has been the collaboration between WalMart and TikTok. The social network launched a shoppable live stream feature enabling users to purchase apparel from WalMart via the app. This leverages the entertainment value of TikTok influencers to promote Walmart products and drive ecommerce sales. Several of the most prominent tech companies are also developing their strategies in the emerging Shopatainment space; Google’s Shoploop, Amazon Live, and Instagram Live Shopping. This trend also broadens the scope of what is considered a retail company. Companies traditionally positioned as content creators can monetize their audiences with targeted product offerings. Brands like Bleacher Report, the sports video service, now emerge as potential competitors to more established retail brands. The development of the Shopatainment trend indicates a future of retail in which companies base their efforts around cultivating a fervent audience rather than break through products.

Social Shopping Goes Virtual

Live events like concerts and sports have been almost completely shifted to virtual experiences. The shift of these cultural touchstones have primed consumers to expect shifts to virtual for other experiences like shopping. Live social shopping enables people to maintain the communal elements of malls and shopping centers, while maintaining socially distanced safety. They log on to a platform together where they can chat via video or text and see what others have placed in shopping bags. Startups all over the world are driving this trend forward by creating social shopping platforms that encourage discovery and discourse around the retail experience. Each offers a glimpse at how social commerce could pan out in the years to come. China’s Pinduoduo app rewards customers for shopping in groups by offering discounts akin to the Groupon model. Integrations with WeChat and other messaging apps encourage a more social approach and cultivate a sense of togetherness among shoppers. The app even includes a cooperative game to keep customer engaged when they’re not actively shopping. In Israel, the eNvite app allows shoppers to show products to their friends via chat and elicit real-time feedback on potential purchases. US social ecommerce platform, Verishop brings shoppers together via its Shop Party feature. Users can invite up to five friends to an online shopping event at a dedicated time. They can view items in one another’s carts and exchange messages via video and text.

E-commerce has successfully matched, and in some ways exceeded, the convenience of the shopping mall. All your favorite stores are available in the same general vicinity (your digital device) and checkout is relatively straightforward. However, the social aspect has lagged behind. That looks to change with the rise of the aforementioned apps and shopping experiences. Thus, the future of shopping is a lot like the past. Meeting up with friends, getting their take on potential purchases, and checking out all the stores in your favorite shopping center. Except now, all that can be done from the comfort of home.

Clean is the New Cool

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, clean has never been cooler. And that cool factor is driving significant change in the retail sector. Wash your hands. Keep your distance from others. Wear a mask. These three refrains of the Clean Regime align with the policy, process, and product changes underway in retail & consumer goods. The Clean Regime refers to the global cultural embrace of consumption habits, and ritualized behaviors, and a visual aesthetic that prioritizes cleanliness as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. With the aforementioned messaging top of mind, people will continue to seek products and services that ensure their cleanliness while putting the pursuit of it on display to others. Companies like Blueland and Truman’s are already hard at work developing this aesthetic. The Clean Regime is also the driving force in transforming the mask from a medical necessity to the hottest new fashion accessory.

To keep their employees and customers safe, organizations must put forth policies that ensure the cleanliness of their properties. This means rules on who can enter shopping locations and the procedures shoppers must follow for the safety of all. For the ever-essential frontline workers, retailers will need new policies around sick leave. With changes, workers are incentivized to show up to work, even when sick, potentially infecting co-workers and customers alike. The business processes of shopping are also changing to satisfy the Clean Regime. Adoption rates for contactless pickup and grocery delivery services made advances in recent months that industry analysts expected to take years. The grocery ecommerce forecast for 2020 was 4.3% but that figure more than doubled to 10.2% by the end of the year. Diligent, hygiene-driven products, policies, and processes are essential elements to navigating the work ahead in retail and consumer goods.

So what are the implications?

1. There’s never been a better time to try something new. Consumers are more forgiving than usual as all parties learn to adjust on the fly to a volatile and uncertain reality. But the classics are quite comforting. With all the change afoot, but familiar products, messaging, and experiences are highly desirable for those seeking some semblance of stability and normalcy. Use the MAYA (most advanced, yet acceptable) principle to find the sweet spot for your brand to innovate with new approaches while still providing comfort.

2. Commerce cross-pollinating with content sets the stage for expanded competition and opportunity in retail. Content creators turning their cultural cache into cold cash via merchandising ventures emerge as potential rivals for more traditional retail brands. But they can also provide retailers with access to expanded audiences through strategic partnerships. Media brands like Complex Networks and Buzzfeed have emerged as early leaders in the content for commerce sector.

3. The backbone of retail’s digital transformation is the space to watch. While retailers or consumer goods brands aren’t always the most futuristic thinkers, their enablers are. Those modernizing the world of retail: Instacart, Shopify, Square, Stripe, MailChimp, MikMak and more are the utility services for the digital economy. Their experimentations and product launches provide indications of where commerce is headed before trends become readily apparent. Eye the enablers to stay informed and develop nimble strategy habits.

Retail was already in the midst of upheaval, but the Coronavirus pandemic has created a sharp inflection point. Changes that were forecast to take years have played out in a matter of months. The pandemic has pushed Remotopia from the margins to the mainstream as we all learn to work and live from a safe distance. That dynamic has particularly impacted retail. The lack of in-person social outings has accelerated the growth of social shopping with apps like Pinduoduo and Verishop leading the way. Without the usual foot traffic to retail locations, brands have combined QVC with IGTV to provide Shopatainment where every one is a star. And no matter where customers shop, the Clean Regime reigns supreme as hygiene becomes high fashion with clean as the new cool. Dissecting these trends will help leaders to better understand the needs and expectations of their customers in the future of retail & consumer goods.