What if you had a crystal ball for your business? You’d never have to wonder about your next decision—every time you gazed into it, you’d clearly see the direction that would bring your business prosperity and growth.
The problem is, many retailers do have just such a crystal ball at hand … but are often too busy to use it.
See the forest, not just the trees
Retailers are busy people, facing a barrage of demands and decisions every moment of every day. This means sometimes we get so busy, so involved in the minutiae of daily responsibilities, we can’t see the forest for the trees:
- We forget to live as full beings, not just as business beings
- We forget to connect deeply with those we love
- We forget to do the personal practices that support us
- We forget change is constant—even in our business practices
- We forget guidance is always right here, if we only look and listen
When we disconnect from our to-do lists—when we instead breathe deeply and take the expanded view—we receive the inspiration and information we need the most.
Emerging trends are one example of information just on the periphery of our awareness.
Some trends are emerging; some are already here
When we look for trends in the marketplace, we must allow ourselves to see both the current reality and also what’s in the process of emerging, those trends ready to bloom in the near future. This means:
- If the trend we notice surprises us, it’s a good thing— we’re watching something new move into reality.
- If what we notice doesn’t make sense, this can be even better—a sign we’re watching a trend that is very new indeed.
- If a trend shows up seemingly out of nowhere and sticks, pay particular attention. When a trend peaks this fast, it’s been embraced by mainstream culture—and in a language your customers most likely speak.
We can analyze trends by looking closely to see what the details are trying to show us. Or, we can stand back and see the big picture of multiple trends connecting into a broader, more encompassing trend.
Either way, the trends we notice are not outside us. Like everything else, they are a reflection of the bigger patterns in the universe—patterns we are part of. We are affected and exist in the bigger emerging reality of this collective energy, the place where trends begin.
Watch the bigger trend
When you first start to study trends, it can be hard to know which trend will stick. For example, it’s easy to see mobile phones are hot, but that doesn’t mean you can predict whether the iPhone or the Blackberry will reign supreme. Luckily, you don’t have to.
The bigger trend—smartphones—is what you need to watch. Smartphones let your customers search, shop, buy, review, post, pay, take pictures, take movies, make calls, and then some. In the most expanded sense, smartphones could best be described as hand-held devices that provide instantaneous global connection.
And that’s the game changer: instantaneous global connection. We couldn’t do that even a few years ago. Smartphones are not just a trend. They are a shift—a huge shift.
Tech trends that are emerging—or already here
Let’s look at eight key trends, technological advancements of the last few years. These global trends—gathered from mainstream business and financial magazines, Trendwatching.com, Newmediatrendwatch.com, various social media sites, and more—are not only emerging; many are here to stay. By adapting your business practices now rather than waiting, you will stay on top of the market and attract new customers who find you using these technologies.
Mobile phones lead the pack, over computers, laptops, tablets, you name it. To reach more customers now, you need to connect with them on their smartphones. That means:
- Your website needs to be mobile optimized
- When selling online, you need a smartphone-optimized payment system
- Your customers will be posting reviews to Facebook and Twitter from their phones
- You’ll need to use scan graphics or other automated collection techniques to collect emails
- You can send texts and emails directly into your customers’ phones
In a few short years, smartphones have moved from the wave of the future to the new reality of shopping. Adapt accordingly.
According to business and IT experts at Forrester (www.forrester.com), U.S. e-commerce sales will grow 62 percent by 2016 to $327 billion. European e-commerce sales will grow by 78 percent by 2016 to $230 billion. Other countries also are showing rapid increases.
If you don’t have an online division yet, now may be the time.
We tend to think of e-commerce as something overwhelming, like eBay or Amazon—in other words, if we start an online shopping presence, we’ll have to sell to the whole planet. Not true.
Niche marketing is thriving online. Customers still want to shop independent, small-scale, unique shops. And, because everything else is online, customers expect your store to be there, too.
Setting up an online store isn’t difficult; endless platforms and solutions make it virtually effortless, including Shopify.com, Payvment.com, eBay’s X.commerce (www.x.com), and many more.
Online sales continue to outpace all other types of spending. More than anything, customers are choosing online payment services that are fast, convenient, and secure. For example, Paypal’s single sign-in system is more popular now than ever.
Intuit (www.intuit.com), Square (www.squareup.com), and other free apps take credit card payments on the go, with or without a card reader device.
Facebook credits are another emerging trend we’ll soon see more of. Buy them via credit card or Paypal, then use them to play games and/or buy virtual and digital goods on Facebook.
Point-and-scan graphics capture information about your customers, then reward them with an immediate discount or special offer for sharing, sent directly to their phone.
It’s fairly easy to set up scan graphics. For example, Constant Contact offers a point-and-click graphic that automatically adds new customers to your email list. Something like this is ideal to set up at your front counter—much faster than the traditional “sign up for our newsletter” sheet, and customers can receive an instant discount for sharing.
Customer curation is hot! Facebook and Twitter remain lively venues for customers to review purchases and share information about products. Pinterest is the new place to be, a rising star in social media, especially for visually sharing favorite products and ideas.
Take advantage of this trend by rewarding your customers for their reviews. For example, Fopping.com is an Indian startup that gives consumers discounts for sharing potential purchases with their social networks.
International fashion company Zara (www.zara.com) has a program they call “People!” which asks fans to upload photos of themselves wearing at least two items from the clothing collection. If you’re featured (weekly) on the website, you win 300 euros.
A company called uFlavor lets consumers concoct their own soft drinks; fans buy them on the company’s site, and the flavor creators are rewarded for each sale.
What middle man? Product inventors are going directly to fans for startup support and product sales through websites such as Kickstarter.com. For example, the designers of TikTok, a watch strap for the iPod Nano raised more than $900,000 from 13,500 people on Kickstarter. Another example? Coffee Joulies put their project on Kickstarter, and nearly 5,000 people pledged more than $300,000.
Apps are still emerging, and the possibilities are astounding. For example, Getkarma.com is an app that lets you select a gift and send it. The recipient is notified, then has the chance to keep the gift, swap it, or donate the value to charity. All they have to do is enter their shipping address, and the gift is on its way.
Subscriptions let you provide extra value to your best customers while keeping in regular contact. Subscription software such as Saasy.com makes managing recurring billing easy. Subscription services are especially interesting trends for retailers, who might consider:
- Book and/or product-of-the-month subscriptions
- Events or services subscriptions, such as readings, workshops, and more
- Giftable subscriptions, such as pre-selected monthly products or bestsellers
Are You Ready For Change?
Sometimes we’re slow to adopt new trends because they don’t seem to fit our customers’ needs. But, other times we’re slow to adapt to new methods and technologies because we’re not quite sure how they work, or we’re not sure we can manage them.
In cases where you know change is happening but you don’t know how to react to it, try looking up from your day-to-day responsibilities and take a big-picture view. Take a moment now and answer these questions in writing. Try this exercise by yourself, first. Then take it into a staff meeting and get responses from your team.
- Of the eight trends listed in this column, the ones I most resonate with are...
- Of all of the trends in the list, the ones I am most resistant to are...
- It would be easy for me to implement which of these trends?
- It would be hard for me to implement which of these trends?
- What are the key demographics of my customers?
- What percentage of my customers are tech savvy?
- What percentage of my customers are tech aware?
- What percentage of my customers have smartphones? Will this number grow?
- What percentage of my customers shop online? Will this number grow?
- What percentage of my customers use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest?
- If I try something new with one of the trends, and it fails, what will happen?
- If I wait too long to adapt to new trends, what will happen?
- What feels fun, lively, and interesting to me when I look at these trends?
- My best course of action for each of the above trends is...
First published in Vol. 26 No. 6 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.