It’s been unusually cold in Dallas and a great time to be introspective. Below I share a pair of insights I have percolating about the year ahead. Cheers to seeing these and other themes unfold in 2017.
#1: Retail Brands Will Think So Consumers Don’t Have To
In 2016: I wrote about how Tesco’s IFTTT channel automates grocery shopping, paving the way for the ‘predictive grocery basket’ of the future.
In The Year Ahead:
To identify emerging trends, follow the money. AI applications are at a tipping point this year, with AI-generated retail revenue expected to skyrocket from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025 according to Tractica.
Innovative retailers are already embracing their new AI-driven world. 2016 saw The North Face’s ‘expert shopper’ Lowe’s Pinterest-scraping interior decorator, and a Starbucks app that offers customized promotions by knowing when and where someone drives.
This march to AI-powered retail will fundamentally shift the role of brands and retailers in consumers’ lives from responsive to predictive.
Today, a brand (retail or otherwise) is a helper that makes it possible to fulfill my needs and wants. The best brands use data to offer curated selections or to delight with new, personalized suggestions.
As increasingly sophisticated bots and apps are launched in the year ahead, the role of retailer/brand will morph into that of a butler, which can proactively anticipate what I need and deliver. The most innovative will find ways to identify and fulfill needs and wants I didn’t even know I had yet.
This will shift the retail paradigm in diverse categories–from grocery to fashion, electronics and anything in between. Just ask Tesco’s grocery shoppers, whose carts are filled with items they are going to want–tomorrow.
There will be benefits for consumers, who will be able to shop more efficiently while offloading repetitive decisions. The upside for retailers and brands will be the ability to add true value to consumers while also driving frequency and desired purchase behaviors.
So, let’s look forward to a not-so-distant future in which we will all sit back while the bots do our shopping.
#2: Communities Will Find New Ways to Flourish
In 2016: Last year’s travels revealed that, even in our tech-driven culture, person-to-person communities are thriving around the globe. This is reflected in South Africa’s spazas, Brazil’s favelas, Shenzhen’s maker culture, and the social nature of global shopping days.
In The Year Ahead:
I will look for the ways in which the fundamental human need to connect and collaborate sparks new platforms and innovations.
Some suggest it will be the ‘year of the group chat,’ as people leave the increasingly corporate and drama-wrought spheres of Facebook and Twitter for smaller circles of virtual connections.
Because workers are people too, we will see the continued growth of enterprise-based communities like Slack. (Incredibly, the average user already spends 10 hours per day in app). While 2016 saw the office party go virtual, I wonder what other communal rituals might find online expressions in the year ahead?
The e-commerce sphere will continue to birth new commerce-based communities, like Amazon’s small-seller platforms, Handmade and Launchpad, and ShopClues, an Indian tech unicorn succeeding with a model that connects small-time sellers to rural communities.
And, I expect to see passion communities move from desktop to mobile, following so many other facets of daily life. This is something developer Amino Apps is banking on and investors are betting on their success.
Last year, seeing firsthand Detroit’s transformation from post-war auto hub to thriving tech town inspired me to think about how the digital world creates opportunities to reinvent community.
As we turn the page to 2017, retailers and brands – both established and emerging – will do well to think about how they can reimagine and facilitate communities for consumers craving authentic connections.
Best wishes for a healthy and happy new year to all. I’m off to get Alexa started on my to-do list…