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Top Ten Retail Trends of 2012

Image source: tabtimes.com

It feels like not long ago that I called 2011 the year of “empowering the consumer,” and expressed that elevated customer experiences posed the greatest opportunity for retailers to succeed in 2012. Looking back, I think that forecast held true. While the boundaries between online and in-store became even blurrier in 2012, I’m proud to say that the retail industry – in every segment – really has stepped up its game and returned to a focus on people. If technology was an energizer in 2011, it’s been an equalizer in 2012. I love seeing the vendors in my local farmers market using iPads to collect payments, the same way that sales associates in Nordstrom do. There’s still a lot of work to do, but a year later I’m even more excited about where we’re headed. So here are my favorite retail trends of 2012:

10. Design collaborations: Target and Neiman Marcus have raised the bar with their collection of over fifty designer products sold in both stores – simultaneously creating a sense of exclusivity and uniqueness, while bringing design to the masses. I laud Neiman Marcus especially, for the many steps they’ve taken in recent years to make luxury more approachable, especially for younger consumers, without diluting their brand.

9. Brazil in the spotlight: retailers from all over the world are seeking growth in Brazil, where the spotlight shines on a rapidly growing consumer class that prizes international luxury. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics on their way, that spotlight is sure to shine on Brazil for many years to come.

8. Big data: many thanks to the fact that we all carry our lives in our smartphones, retailers now have access to more data about our habits and preferences than they know what to do with (yet). Some fear that this trend will mean the end for small mom-and-pop retailers who can’t afford the systems required to analyze the data thoroughly; but I can’t help but wonder if the fear of ‘big brother’ will only push customers closer to those same mom-and-pops.

7. Department store reinvention: With credit to my colleague Kathleen Jordan for her keen eye on this trend, I’m especially excited about what department stores are doing to make themselves relevant again – improving customer experience, integrating technology, offering exclusive brands, and de-cluttering their store designs.

6. Showrooming: it wasn’t long ago that this was a bad word in the retail industry, but I’m pleased to see that many retailers are now realizing they need to embrace technology in their brick-and-mortar stores, since customers will be using mobile apps like Decide and Milo to comparison shop whether they like or not.

5. Local made products: According to Perception Research, four out of five U.S. shoppers notice ‘Made in the USA’ labels, and 76% claim to be more likely to buy when they do. Even global brands are embracing this trend: for example, in partnership with SFMade, Banana Republic featured local products with a pop-up shop in its San Francisco flagship earlier this year.

4. Digital transactions simplified: I might have been skeptical of this one in the past, but with better, smarter, safer technology easing questions of trust and reliability, tools like Square and Google Wallet have made it easier for customers to pay with the convenient scan of a barcode, or – perhaps more significantly – for retailers to turn iPads into cash registers. I’m convinced that this will be one of the biggest trends to watch in the years ahead.

3. Personalized coupons: Perhaps receiving coupons based on your purchase history is not new, but I’m glad to see that grocery retailers are starting to realize that many of us hate clipping and/or printing them. Products like Safeway’s Just for U allow customers to register to have those deals loaded directly on the club cards that we already carry.

Image source: jpdesign.org

2. Elevated brand image overseas: As Western brands increasingly migrate to new international markets, it’s exciting to see prototypes adapt to global consumers’ tastes for innovative, boundary-pushing design. If it weren’t for the logo, would you have guessed that this is a Starbucks? I think this is another trend that has a long future; in fact, I think retailers’ willingness to test new ideas in new markets will raise the bar for design and branding back at home in the U.S., too. One to watch.

1. Turning the pop-up into experience design: For years, pop-up shops have signaled fun if not fleeting introductions to new brands and new products, but my number one observation from 2012 is that pop-ups are here to stay. I don’t mean that we’ll see even more of the here-today-gone-tomorrow temporary shops (though I don’t think that trend is over), but rather I believe the experience that pop-up shops have provided is a major impetus for traditional retailers’ push to reengage their own customers. It’s about finding unexpected elements within retail – a health care advisor inside a grocery store or a tea shop inside a furniture store – that create value, convenience and unique experiences. Shoppers want to be wowed, and that’s a trend that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Barry Bourbon AIA, LEED® AP, is a leader of Gensler’s global retail practice and a principal in the San Francisco office. With a constant eye on the latest tools and technologies that connect consumers and retailers, Barry inspires colleagues to stay focused on the rapidly evolving issues facing clients, and to design for the holistic experience of a brand. Never one to shy from a challenge, Barry is an expert problem solver who excels at leading multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams with the tightest schedules and budgets. Contact him at barry_bourbon@gensler.com.

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