It’s either an exciting time or a particularly frightening time for retailers depending which side of the innovation curve you’re sitting on right now. Either way, there are some big changes trending that should be taken note of. The ground is shifting fast, so whether you are big-box or the corner bodega, here are my top things you should be incorporating into your business if it makes sense:
- Getting Rid Of The Middle Man - Perhaps one of the most obvious trends I’ve noticed in the past year is the number of companies opening shop based on the premise of eliminating the middle man - typically the big brands that have defined the past few decades. I think this is really interesting as it forms a bridge between the manufacturers (factories) and the consumers. It eliminates a markups the brands and retailers put on the products. I love it even more because as it becomes more widespread, it will force retailers to continue reinventing themselves (similar to the impact generics have had on the pharmaceutical industry). Some of my most notable favorites include EverLane, Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Frank & Oak, and IndoChino. Then there is another breed of site promising designer brand goods at ‘exclusive’ or ‘insider’ prices. My favorites in this category include Huckberry, Fab, JackThreads, and Steep And Cheap.
- Moving From The Cloud To The Corner – There are a number of tech companies that have begun prototyping stores in the past year, including Amazon, eBay and Google. We’ve seen obvious success in the form of beautiful glass cubes that sell well designed white computers inside, but it will be interesting to see if these companies are able to turn these into profitable channels, or if they will simply let them live as marketing devices or ongoing experiments.
- Redefining The Offerings and How You Experience Them - Well established retail stores such as Starbucks have been taking drastic measures to redefine what their in store experience looks like. Experimenting with everything from beer and wine to shipping containers to sustainable material usage, they’re prototyping designs all over the world. They are on the forefront of defining what the new retail experience will feel like, in the midst of turbulent economic environments and the collapse of many long-lived retailers, particularly in the big box arena.
- Curating The World - Recently we saw Rachel Shechtman open A Startup Store in NYC, based on curating products from various startups, and changing themes every few months. I love this idea and think it is something we will be seeing more of in the coming years, for two main reasons. First, people are becoming super-saturated with options of things to buy, listen to, or engage with. Consumers are ripe for having other people sift through it all for them to tell them what to focus on. Secondly, the startup world is exploding, particularly in NYC. This is a means of helping to bring some of those projects to life and closer to steady revenue streams.
- Removing The Least Pleasant Part Of The Experience - World renowned chef Grant Aschatz’s newest restaurant NEXT, in Chicago, is modeled more after a theater than a restaurant. The idea is to remove payment process from the experience all together by allowing patrons to purchase tickets in advance, leaving the night to be pure enjoyment. The theme of the restaurant also changes every few months, very similar to a theater. As retail stores try to redefine how their customers are experiencing their brand and offerings, these are the types of movements they should try to incorporate. This isn’t just a shift in layout design or product offering, but rather a completely new way of having the brand experience.
- Telling A Compelling Story - Millennials love to be inspired. Especially by a good story. We will continue to see more and more companies singing their underlying mission loud and proud to get followers on board. By doing so, consumers aren’t just passionate about a product or material, they are expressing their passion for a belief, a value, or a cause. It isn’t always the case, but often these missions are speaking to larger social issues, which is a direction I’m always in favor of seeing business go. Some of my favorite examples of this trend include Holstee, TOMS, WarbyParker, Falling Whistles and KONY 2012.
For a few more examples of great things happening in retail right now, check out retail round-up from FastCompany’s 50 Most Innovative list.