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Future of the retail sector in Europe, customers and marketing

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Here are some key trends for the retail industry over the next 5-10 years in Europe: Time-Savers, Brand-Busters, Mega-Chains, Blood-Bath, Niche Traders, Older Consumers, Food Shortages, Ultra-Premium, Online Boom, Mobile Marketing, Online Aggregators, Wireless Payment, Wireless Warehousing, Leisure Retailing, Speed to Market, Power Packaging, Brands within Brands, Hype to Revelation - and most of all, Customer Focus.  Patrick Dixon has worked with many of the world's largest manufacturers of retail goods. These issues affect retailing in all sectors including fashion, childrenswear, DIY and home improvements, health and beauty retailing, convenience stores, electricals, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), furniture and grocery retailing.

Time-savers – ticking clock is the new currency

We live in a world which is running faster than ever, with ever more demands on people’s time.  Retail companies that waste customer time will lose business – unless they offer budget prices as part of the deal.  Convenience retailing means knowing exactly what your customer is likely to need – in advance – and planning for it, for example making sure there are enough extra staff on the tills during a busy lunch-time.

Brand-Busters – as consumers move down-market

Expect flight from expensive brands to reliable retail value. The global economic crisis is causing a massive shakeup in retailing across Europe as customers move down market, looking for basic products at lower prices. Opportunities for brand-busting offers.

Mega-Chains – domination in all sectors

Expect further rapid consolidation amongst smaller and larger retail chains – fighting to keep shop prices lower, with greater bargaining power in store buying from farmers or manufacturers.

Blood-Bath - among small retail entrepreneurs

Small retail traders (cornershops, "mom and pop stores") continue to be some of the most optimistic entrepreneurs in the world – and the hardest working, as well as vulnerable.  Just look at the number of new shops and retail outlets that open as soon as others close – each built on hopes and dreams of another small retailer.  But there will be ever greater pressures on such entrepreneurs to get their market research right, their presentation and marketing right, their stock selection right, their prices right.

Niche-Traders – boom for specialist markets from bored consumers

At the same time, in over-consolidated retail markets where every high street looks the same, expect growth of interesting, niche shops.

Older consumers – different needs, more money than you think

1 million people in Italy will be over 90 years old by 2026, and ageing is happening rapidly in many other European nations.  This will impact every aspect of retail – from layout of stores to design of packaging.  A simple example is adding more areas inside stores for people to sit down and rest, and providing better, larger signs and clearer labeling.  People over 65 own 75% of all wealth in the UK and the US.  Do not underestimate the economic power of older consumers. 

Future generations of pensioners may be wiped out financially by the current crisis, but many of those already retired have index-linked pensions and have created wealth from property.  Significant numbers of retired people are also inheriting new capital from even older parents who recently died.  Older consumers will drive growth in specialist retail outlets.

Food shortages - Food prices under pressure from biofuels and climate

Expect wide price fluctuations in food prices over the next decade, partly caused by extreme weather – drought and flood, but also by biofuels.  This year 40% of all US wheat will be burned in vehicles and we are only at the start of the biofuel revolution, which means that oil, food and land prices are now linked into a single market.

Ultra-Premium  – very wealthy demanding more

At the top end of the market, expect continued growth of sales to those who with high disposable income – who will be willing to pay huge amounts to premium retailers for exclusivity, luxury, rarity and outstanding quality.

Online boom – logistical challenges for retail with delivery and returns

Specialist online retailers will grow rapidly – without any physical shops.  At the same time, expect sales of traditional shops to decline as their own online stores become more popular. Expect rapid growth of home delivery companies – looking for innovative ways to reduce cost of delivering the last mile, improve efficiency.  A key issue will be dealing with retail customers who are ordering 4 or 5 sizes of the same clothes to try on at home – requiring rapid, efficient ways of restocking returned goods.

Mobile marketing – location sensitive, smart, multichannel

Expect huge growth in many European nations of location-specific marketing, with store offers arriving on mobile devices which are linked to the products they are looking at, or the restaurant they are sitting in, or to what they have just been doing.

Price comparison – new pressure on physical retailers from online aggregators

Expect rapid growth of aggregator sites online – where all prices from different companies for similar goods or services can be compared at the speed of light, and bought from one place.  Expect a boom in non-buyers visiting shops, but never walking out with purchases – people who are instantly comparing prices of goods they are looking at, with prices in other stores nearby or online.

Wireless payments take off – new competitors to banks

Expect huge growth in contactless payments – using RFIDs in plastic payment cards in the first phase, and wireless technology inside mobile phones in the second phase, linked to biometrics.  Telecom companies will look to seize market share from banks in controlling payments, and banks will look to seize market share from telecom companies, to protect their future.

Wireless Warehousing - stock management – RFID 2.0

After a relatively slow start, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices or Wireless Barcodes) prices will fall dramatically as volumes rise.  Expect stock management at the speed of light, from retail sale to manufacturer ordering more raw materials.  Expect efficiencies in warehousing of up to 70%, and a major reduction in theft of goods from Factory to being sold in shops.

Leisure Retailing

Shopping Mall experience will be all about: theatre, sensation, event, entertainment – hitting back the growth of virtual shopping.  Retailers will develop new ways to bring customers out of their offices and homes – creating a relaxing and enjoyable experience, a family day out, a delightful break from the workplace.  Expect shopping Malls to create areas for buskers (live musicians), street theatre, community groups, as well as including cinemas, theatres and other leisure destinations.  Department stores are mini shopping malls and the same applies to them.

Speed to Market - product cycles get shorter especially in fashion

Expect interval between design and goods in retail stores to become even shorter with clothing companies packing 4,5 or 6 “seasons” into a year to keep displays fresh and customers returning.  Expect shorter supply chains for some retailers, with products sourced more locally to reduce risk of running out or having too much stock.

Power Packaging - more with less

Expect rapid innovation in retail packaging to continue – reducing the amount of materials used, increasing product shelf-life, reducing the amount of energy needed, increasing use of recycled materials.

Brands within brands

Expect major chains across Europe to follow the example of retailers like Tesco and Carrefour, creating all kinds of own-label sub-categories within stores – for example “Suitable for Vegans” or “Organic” or “Locally produced” or “Additive free” or “Gluten free” - aiming to be niche brands within mass market brands.

Single Issues - ethical consumers

Expect continued rise in consumers who chose products based on values - when prices and product features converge, the only differentiator is brand perception and values.  Areas where ethics create price premium: Fair Trade coffee, free range eggs, organic food.  Consumers will expect ethical products to be similar in price in future - and retail stores to remove products that they cannot morally justify.

Hype to Revelation – helping customers on their life journey

Expect shift in retail marketing from brand promotion and over-selling to providing information, revealing the truth about how products have helped us, using real stories and accurate data. This will be driven by the impact of social media, keeping companies honest and punishing marketers who exaggerate.

And finally, above all else:

Customer focus – made stronger by social media

Expect big changes in customer expectations when it comes to customer service, and huge growth in the number of complaints to friends and others in the online world through social media.  Successful retailers will consistently work harder to put their customers first, save them time, save them money.  That means deep customer insight into how they think and feel.  Try being a customer yourself in your own brands, go and spend a day watching your customers - you may be surprised.


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