5 Trends to Watch in 2014

by : 

Maggie Feeney

April 1, 2014

With tech improvements and innovations making headlines practically every day, trends have become nearly synonymous with technology. While we definitely are keeping our eyes focused on tech trends, a closer look reveals the trends we’re watching are really about improving the customer experience in some way, from making social connections with our customers to enhancing the way they shop to being the source of products that keep them grounded in a wired world.

#1: Google+ joins the big leagues.

With 300 million users and growing, Google+ is gaining traction and is poised to claim more of the social media pie this year. What’s so great about Google+? For starters, posts on Google+ have a distinctive SEO edge: They are immediately indexed (made searchable) by Google’s search algorithms. Google+ seamlessly integrates with all Google’s companion offerings, including YouTube, and businesses can email their followers on Google+, something businesses can’t currently do with their Facebook fans. If Google+ hasn’t been on your radar, it’s time to rethink things. And, make sure to add the +1 button to your web pages so visitors can share your content with their Google+ circles.

#2: A picture is worth a thousand tweets.

Social media is quickly becoming a visual medium. A 2013 study by social media tracker Socialbakers revealed a staggering 93 percent of the most engaging Facebook posts were photos. Image-heavy sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are increasingly popular across all demographics, and Youtube boasts more than one billion unique users visiting the site every month. The biggest up-and-coming player, though, is Vine, an app that lets users—including brands such as Samsung and Target—make highly shareable, 6-second micro-videos. Because photos and video are so well-suited to the visual experience of shopping, getting more image-focused with your social media is a no brainer … and a lot of fun!

#3: What’s in your wallet, I mean, phone?

With all the functions our smartphones serve—phone, camera, web browser, clock, GPS, and more—it’s no wonder they rarely leave our sides, making the mobile wallet a natural progression. PayPal, Google Wallet, and Pay with Square are a few services in the emerging mobile-payments world, and some national retailers even have their own payment apps loaded with bonuses such as coupons and reward points. Plenty of shoppers will continue paying with plastic, but by October 2015, U.S. retailers will be required to switch to the chip-and-PIN credit card processing system (also known as EMV) already in use in most other countries. After the deadline, liability for fraudulent transactions using magnetic-strip cards shifts to the merchants.

#4: Low energy equals high sales potential.

Bluetooth Low Energy technology is poised to transform the shopping experience, allowing stores to pinpoint where customers are in the store within inches and send personalized offers to their phones tailored to the products they are standing next to. While it sounds like the purview of big-box stores, the recent release of Apple’s iBeacon technology puts it within reach of retailers big and small, provided you have an app to communicate with your customers. Estimote (www.estimote.com) sells a set of three beacons for $99 that are ready to integrate with a store’s app. Now all we need are low-priced, easy-to-develop apps!

#5: Embracing the mindful consumer.

Interest in tools to help cultivate a mindful way of life is rising at a steady pace. The tech world is embracing mindfulness in a big way, with apps and gadgets to help people achieve greater balance of body, mind, and spirit on the go—even in flight, courtesy of VirginAir’s partnership with the online meditation service Headspace. Offline, the discerning conscious consumer will pay a premium for products that are Fair Trade, organic, and made with positive intention. These same customers want to forge real connections with the human side of their favorite businesses, so it’s crucial to get social and share the story behind your store and the products you carry. Let them know your store reflects and supports their mindful-living aspirations.

Maggie Feeney is Editor in Chief of Retailing Insight.