Retail Trends of the Past Decade

The past decade has brought about tremendous change in the world of retail in the United States.  Its commonly said that change is the only constant in retail, and this adage will not go away any time soon.  Reviewing the trends of the past few years enables us to look forward to the trends that will define the next decade’s retail environment.

Top Trends in Retail that have brought us to 2020

Growth of Ecommerce

The greatest retail development in the last ten years is undoubtedly the growth e-commerce.  According to Statica.com, e-commerce sales comprised 4.6% of US retail sales in Q3 2010, compared to 11.2% of all retail sales in Q3 2019.  Meanwhile, the largest online retailer in the US, Amazon.com, has seen its sales grow from $34.2B in 2010 to $232.9B in 2018.

While many retailers treated e-commerce as a necessary evil for the first half of the decade, Amazon showed the world what consumers desire most; a vast selection at a competitive price, and fast delivery.  Now, with Walmart, Target and other large-scale retailers devoting their organizations resources against developing and growing e-commerce, the industry should only expect the growth of e-comm sales to continue, especially as the industry is able to make same day and next day delivery a reality for the country at large, and not just in large cities.

Multi and Omni-channel consumers

The concept of Multi-Channel shopping is a simple one; a consumer can shop online for the best deal and compare products and features before making their choice to purchase goods, either online or in-store.  The difference between Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel is simple as well.  Multi-channel retailers have more than one format, i.e. brick-n-mortar stores and an e-commerce website, however, the two are fairly silo’d and do not make the shopping experience as simple for the shopper as it could be.

Omni-channel, on the other hand, refers to a shopping experience that includes multiple channels, but with an interface and supporting supply-chain that makes researching, shopping and pick-up/delivery a seamless experience for the consumer.

Large national retailers like Walmart, Target, Walgreens and Ulta are especially poised to take advantage of their massive capital assets, to the advantage of primarily e-commerce only players, like Amazon.  These retailers utilize great online content to drive purchases in store and online, as well as other technologies and advertising venues to point shoppers to the categories and items that match their interests.  Privacy concerns are a significant factor in this area, and much is yet to be seen how this will fully play out in the decade to come.  What is clear is that consumers are voting with their loyalty with retailers and brands that treat them as a single consumer, regardless of the channel they are using at any given moment.

Direct-to-consumer

Nutrisystem, As-Seen-on-TV and home-shopping networks have sold and delivered products directly to consumers for many years, and are still very relevant in today’s retail environment, as they continue to innovate and distinguish their services from that of online and omni-channel retailers.

However, the last decade has seen the advent of many new players in the direct-to-consumer model; Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker and Casper, just to name a few.  These brands have developed billion-dollar businesses that have caught the attention of, and direct investment by, traditional CPG and retail. 

This trend overlaps with changes the last decade has seen in advertising venues.  Advertising dollars have radically switched from traditional media to the new media, educating consumers with more content and customization that brick-n-mortar retailing cannot provide, with less resources needing to be deployed for marketing, which enables greater product quality and service.

Moving advertising dollars from traditional media to new media

The transition of advertising dollars from traditional media (TV, newspaper, radio) to new media (Youtube, Instagram, Google) is not a new trend, but this trend gives legs to other trends in US retail.  Brands such as e.l.f. Beauty and Chubbies are great examples of what digital native brands can accomplish with almost entirely new media advertising. 

Social Media influencers get a lot of attention, but the greatest online advertisement is a raving review by a loyal consumer, and that is what these companies have mastered, with a precision that has launched e.l.f. Beauty from an online only brand at the beginning of the decade, to a top cosmetics and beauty brand in 2019.

Grocery pick-up and delivery

Enabling consumers to select their orders at home or work and pick the goods up on the way home, or better yet, have them delivered to your home, is just the next logical step on the retail industry’s quest to earn consumer loyalty through convenience.  The last 5 years has seen this medium launch and recreate itself to a point where a growing number of consumers are using grocery pick/delivery as their primary grocery shopping modality. 

Convenience for busy families is the primary reason for the growth of this segment.  A recent study conducted by Acosta states that 44% of households with children use online grocery pick-up (OGP), whereas only 15% of non-children households participate. 

Instacart, the online grocery pick-up service that partners with Albertsons, Publix Super Markets, Wegmans Food Markets, Schnucks Market, Price Chopper, Gelson’s Markets, Shop ‘n Save and The Fresh Market is very bullish on the future of OGP.

According to a statement by Instacart President, Nilam Ganenthiran, “2020 is the year of pickup. For our retail partners, we’ve seen Instacart Pickup become a gateway to growth in a margin-thin industry.  Our pickup product is also becoming a significant revenue contributor for our retail partners, growing customer basket size by an average of 15% and accounting for an average of 20% of a retailer’s total Instacart store sales.”

Consolidation of niche retailers

Circuit City, Toys R Us and Payless Shoes are just a few examples of niche retailers being consolidated.  These stores used to be destinations for large and unique assortment options, with knowledgeable personnel.  However, these selling features are core to e-commerce and omni-channel marketing efforts, leaving many legacy niche players in the dust. 

There is still room in the economy for specialty retailers, indicated by Best Buy, home improvement and certain department stores, like Nordstrom’s, that have reacted to a changing consumer in a way that keeps them engaged and shopping.  But as many in retail discovered this holiday season, the first ever without a single Toys R Us store, picking up legacy foot traffic and the impulse purchases that accompanied them, is more easily said than done. 

So far, Amazon.com appears to be the greatest winner of specialty retail consolidation, but 2020 and beyond leaves nothing but opportunity for brands and retailers that are willing to find new ways to entice consumers to their stores or websites, focusing on convenience, high quality produce and a great experience that is more than simply “loading the cart”.

James Harris is the President of High Impact Analytics.  HIA provides analytics, insights, solutions and back-office management for consumer-packaged goods brands doing business at retail in the US and Canada.  Click here to request more information about how we can empower your organization to do great things at Walmart, Target, Walgreens and more.