What do cannabis, autonomous delivery and the resurrection of mall stores have in common? Each was one of retail’s biggest stories in 2018.
Take a look ahead to see what helped shape retail discourse this year—and what the industry will still be talking about come 2019.
Amazon opened its first cashierless Amazon Go location in Seattle in January and, since then, eliminating the checkout has arguably been the year’s biggest retail craze.
Not only has Amazon Go expanded to Chicago and San Francisco, but startups like Zippin and Standard Cognition opened the doors of their own checkout-free stores. There were also reports Microsoft is working on Go-like technology. And then there are retailers like Macy’s, Sam’s Club and 7-Eleven, which have their own programs, and Walmart and Target, which gave store associates handheld devices to check out holiday shoppers. Even digitally native beverage brand Dirty Lemon, which sells drinks via text, got in on the action in New York. And with reports saying Amazon is eyeing airports for additional expansion, this isn’t likely the last we’ve heard of cashierless.
While retailers continue to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks in online grocery, autonomous delivery is starting to have its moment. Kroger announced it was planning a trial with robotics company Nuro in June. It went live in November with two unmanned vehicles in Scottsdale, Ariz. That’s in addition to a fleet of autonomous Priuses with safety drivers. Walmart announced its own self-driving grocery delivery pilot with Google’s former self-driving car project Waymo in Chandler, Ariz. in July, which was followed by a trial with Ford and Postmates in Miami in November. That’s in addition to last-mile delivery robots from platforms like Postmates, which delivers food, groceries and alcohol, as well as Savioke, which has a robot that delivers food and laundry in hotels.
2018 may also be the year BOPIS, or Buy Online Pick Up In Store, truly became part of the retail lexicon. Adobe included it in its holiday tracking, noting consumers opting—to? For?—BOPIS grew 46 percent year over year through Dec. 6—and 73 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
With the Farm Bill legalizing industrial hemp, expect to see the continued rise of CBD products for sale. Of course, with states like New Jersey and New York proactively moving toward legalizing cannabis, the once taboo industry will keep growing and innovate new ways to market its products, whether that’s through the Museum of Weed or an upscale place to shop called MedMen. It’s an industry that saw a lot of change and innovation in 2018 and will only continue in the new year.
Brands are far from closing the ominchannel loop around social commerce, but that hasn’t stopped companies from trying to sell new products on social platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat’s led a series of drops on its platform, with brands like Jordan and Adidas, each with notable sellout records. Instagram continues to ramp up what its platform can offer both brands and consumers, and recently introduced three new features—shopping from videos, saving products tagged in stories and the ability to view a business’s full list of products. Rumors also surfaced about Instagram supposedly developing a standalone app for shopping and Snap Inc.’s former chief strategy officer, Imran Khan, is reportedly also creating a standalone ecommerce app.
Thanks to social commerce, brands are crowdsourcing new products or exclusively selling new items on these platforms. Both Nyden, an H&M brand and newcomer, Choosy are tapping into the power of Instagram to determine what its customers actually want. Direct to consumer brand Allbirds celebrated its birthday this year by dropping an entire shoe collection on Instagram. Everyone wants a piece of this up-and-coming industry.
No 2018 list is complete without the mention of the new crop of disruptor brands ready to conquer industries and markets. Some, like Tuft and Needle or Walker and Brands, were acquired by the old guards, while others continue chugging away in dominating fashion, like Away, which raised $50 million in Series C funding earlier this year. Many of these brands like Brandless or Allbirds tested a bricks-and-clicks strategy that will surely continue in 2019.
As pressure mounts on retailers to give consumers a legitimate reason to actually visit a store, some—like Crate and Barrel—are opening in-store restaurants to not only drive traffic, but also create more engaging experiences and build retention. The list also includes Restoration Hardware, which opened a “90,000-square-foot experience” in New York, as well as AT&T, which opened a store/coffeehouse in Seattle. The concept isn’t radically new—jeweler Tiffany & Co. has operated its Blue Box Café at its New York flagship since 2017—and all reservations for a given day are still typically claimed within two minutes of release.
Another industry to tickle retailers’ fancy is healthcare. This is the year we saw Amazon gobble up a prescription delivery business and pharmacy chain CVS Health close its acquisition of insurance company Aetna, as well as reports Walmart wants to buy insurance company Humana. (Although grocery store Albertsons and pharmacy Rite Aid, which announced their intent to merge in February, decided to go their separate ways a few months later).
Mall Stores Rise From The Dead
Recent history has not been kind to mall stores, but investment firms are giving some of these retailers makeovers and reintroducing them online. That includes Sycamore Partners, which bought Nine West in 2006, shut down nearly all of its stores and eventually sold the brand to development, marketing and entertainment company Authentic Brands Group, which has teased as-of-yet-unknown plans for a revival. (Sycamore is also the firm that relaunched The Limited online in 2017.) Similarly, Gordon Brothers Finance Company bought Wet Seal in March and relaunched it as an ecommerce-only play with a plus-size line in September. More inclusive sizing is certainly a sub-theme here as Walmart also announced it was buying the Limited’s former plus-size line, Eloquii, which shut down in 2013 and came back to life as a direct-to-consumer brand in 2014.
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