Retail Industry Trends – Disruptive Technology and How it is Reshaping Retail

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) serves the global retail real estate industry and on March 2-3 it hosted the ICSC Mid-Atlantic Conference at National Harbor.  The focus of the ICSC conference is to provide relevant information on the most current industry trends and the state of the market regionally.   The keynote speaker at this year’s conference was Howard Saunders who is widely known as the Retail Futurist.  Saunders presented an animated industry discourse entitled World's Gone Crazy: The Age of Disruption.

Saunders bemoaned the continued erosion of what he called “legacy” brick and mortar brands such as Sears, Macy’s etc., but excitedly suggested that new contemporary brands are filling in.  The industry is entering an era where retailers are preparing to blow our minds with novel, creative, new approaches to present a brand and to connect strongly with the consumer.  According to Saunders, this transformation in retail can be traced back to our pockets – our homes or our hands.  The smartphone is what Saunders believes initiated this great transformation.  No longer do we need to leave our homes to find what we need or what we want.  We rely on artificial intelligence to do it for us.  AI such as Siri and Alexa use technology to accomplish all that for us and more.  It gives us instant access to everything.  Saunders calls this the great overload of data.  But this data also serves the retailers – it tells them what we like, where we shop and more.  The great overload of data has caused untold disruption within the retail industry and the smart brands are paying attention.  Innovative retailers use the available big data to drive new strategies, new approaches to remain relevant and connected with their consumers.

To drive this point home, Saunders shared images of captivating experiential retail locations that focused not on the product but on the consumer experience interacting with the brand.  Gone are the retail shops filled with shelves of product lining aisles.  Casper the mattress retailer, offers The Dreamery “a magical place in NYC where you can rest and recharge”.  For a fee, guests can book online a nap session of 45 mins atop a Casper mattress set inside a private little pod.   Glade, the air freshener brand, offered consumers a multisensory pop-up experience in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.  The space featured five individual “experience” rooms tied to Glade fragrances.  Long standing brand, Jack Daniels creatively brought its hallmark home village of Lynchburg, Tennessee to Manhattan by setting up a painstakingly detailed pop-up recreation of the town.  Visitors to the store could get their hair cut at the village barbershop, take a virtual tour of the Lynchburg distillery, get their name painted on a Jack Daniels barrel and of course try and buy some bourbon.

Once a key element of good marketing, product benefits no longer resonate with today’s consumer.  Function is not the hallmark of a product or service appeal.  Retail now must focus on how the consumer feels.  Brands must appeal to us emotionally and connect with us emotionally.  Today it's all about how products make us feel.  Brand ethics matter.  What does the brand stand for?  How can the consumer align with the brand and feel part of it?

This is the new retail landscape, both online and offline. Saunders says the Instagram generation must be seduced with emotional, creative content, and with storytelling and immersive and engaging ideas.  It certainly will be interesting to see how this continues to evolve.