The retail apocalypse is still in full swing, but that doesn't mean retail is going extinct. Sure, many retailers have gone out of business, and there will be many more to go. But commerce is going nowhere. People will always buy and sell, they'll just do it drastically different than they ever have.
The retail industry continues to change at lightning-fast speed, and the pace will only quicken. Here's what's in store for retailers and consumers alike:
• Consumers will harness the power of tracking. In a world where Google seems to know us better than we know ourselves, consumers will learn to use predictive analytics for their own benefit.
For years, consumers looking for a place to eat have plugged "Restaurants near me" into their phones.
In 2019, consumers will search for more personally tailored information, such as "Movies for me" and asking questions like "Where should I eat?" And just like Facebook knows how to show you an ad for the very thing you were just thinking of buying, your apps will be able to tell that you're more likely to prefer an action flick over a comedy or opt for tacos over sushi.
• "The internet of things" will kick into high gear. There are now more devices, appliances, toys, fixtures, buildings and machines connected to the internet than there are people in the world – about 8.4 billion of them, estimates research analysis firm Gartner.
In the past, these things have quietly sent, received and collected data in the background: A computer printer working unnoticed under the desk, a thermostat controlling the temperature in the den.
But, hastened by Amazon's user-friendly Alexa device, consumers have become much more comfortable with having their lives more overtly connected. Refrigerators that can reorder orange juice before you run out? Ovens that will cook a roast just the way you tell it to? They have been around for a while, but this is the year mainstream customers will finally begin accepting them.
• Befriending bots. Consumers want answers to questions. Fast.
Have you ever tried calling a big box store? If you can get through to the right department, it's not likely you'll get the answers you need from the overworked, undertrained employee on the other end of the line. That's where customer service chatbots come in – artificial intelligence software that can simulate conversations on the internet.
Chatbots have detailed information about a retailer's inventory, endless patience and are always pleasant. They can recommend products, direct you to the right aisle in a store, even help you pick the right shade of makeup. Chatbots are popular because they allow customers to control the conversation and use their preferred mode of communication – instant messaging.
• Shipping shakeup. Amazon Prime members receive their packages within two days, sometimes sooner. That has set a new bar for every other retailer. Walmart, which has made major investments in its e-commerce capabilities, has improved its shipping times by leaps and bounds.
But other stores have a long way to go. Some retail deliveries can take weeks, which might as well be years. In 2019, retailers will scramble to streamline their supply chains; perfecting the store-as-fulfillment-center model and using third-party fulfillment providers.
• More mashups. Just like Sears teamed up with Amazon to sell its tires through the e-commerce juggernaut, and Macy's acquired experiential New York boutique Story, 2019 will see more partnerships among retailers.
This is different than when Aeropostale trotted out fashion blogger Bethany Mota and slapped her name on a label in 2013. These are real partnerships that benefit both parties: an established retailer (Macy's) gaining relevance while a small, influential brand (Story) gains a bigger audience; a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer (Sears) making inroads online while an online retailer (Amazon) gains market share in a category that is typically an in-person sale.
Story topics: Prospectus 2019