5 Retail Predictions for 2020

Will 2020 be the Year of Voice Shopping?

a pink shopping cart with two fingers pointing at it
Here's what's to come in shopping in 2020. Nanette Hoogslag/Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Key Insights:

This upcoming year is already shaping up to be a banner year with a new Brexit deadline, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and, of course, a presidential election. But what about the retail industry?

As a new year approaches, we asked analysts what they expect to see from retailers in 2020. Their responses run the gamut from familiar to brand new—and even new spins on old favorites.

Here are their five predictions for the year to come in retail:

More media networks

Media networks from Walmart and Target emerged in 2019, and Todd Bowman, senior director of Amazon and product marketplaces at performance marketing agency Merkle, said additional retailers will toss their hat in the media network ring in 2020.

“Amazon has started a trend where brands who have not traditionally had a DTC presence want more insights and control in selling their products through retailers,” Bowman said. “Because of this, we expect to see more retailers enter the media network space to generate additional revenue and satisfy their key brands.”

Elizabeth Marsten, senior director of strategic marketplace services at digital marketing agency Tinuiti, agreed that 2020 will bring an expansion of self-service advertising options from retailers—and not just the big guys.

“We’ll start getting some benchmarks, new APIs and a deeper understanding of our customer across the platforms and meet them on their terms more often,” she added.

Even better experiences

Oweise Khazi, director of Amazon intelligence at Gartner for Marketers, said to expect better consumer experiences, even from retail leaders.

He said Walmart’s site revamp has really paid off. And Amazon started focusing on elevating the user experience more recently “to shed its tag of a site where users only procure basics and replenishable products in the beauty and fashion spaces.”

“The retailer is driving to create exclusive value at masstige price points by partnering with celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna,” he continued. “A Prime Day concert and heavy video presence was also a standout feature of this year’s Prime Day. Additionally, the platform launched its Personal Shopper [service], which, similar to Rent the Runway, will provide customers product recommendations based on their interests and hobbies, effectively allowing them to cut through the noise of millions and millions of products.”

Interestingly, Khazi noted Nike also wants to focus on customer experience, but it did so by leaving Amazon.

Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of the agency BuyerLegends and co-author of the book Be Like Amazon, expects that other brands will continue to experiment with new store formats, sizes and technology like AR and VR to elevate the in-store experience.

Grace Smith, director of digital media investment at media and marketing services company Mindshare, agreed that we’ll also see brick and mortar retailers expand their ecommerce offerings via AR, voice assistants and social commerce, while digitally native companies will expand into brick and mortar either full time or through pop-ups.

“Retailers and brands will want to evolve their approach to ensure they are being agile and can meet consumers demands wherever they may be shopping at any given point,” she said.

Predictions from Kantar are in alignment. According to the research firm, we’ll see continued experiments in new store formats, particularly those that accommodate new fulfillment methods.

Similarly, Michael Brown, partner in the consumer and retail practice of strategy and management consultancy A.T. Kearney, said we’ll see checkout processes using customers’ devices become increasingly self-service, along with innovation across new loyalty programs.

Voice shopping

This new year may be the year voice shopping finally takes off in the U.S.

That’s according to Anindya Ghose, professor of business at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who said one of the biggest retail trends in 2020 will be voice-enabled commerce. In November 2019, Ghose published a research paper on this topic, which found voice-activated shopping devices like Amazon’s Echo and Alibaba’s Tmall Genie are gaining popularity as a new channel for shopping.

In an experiment with Alibaba, Ghose and his team found voice-activated shopping leads consumers to purchase more stuff and to spend more on it. What’s more, they found the positive impact on quantity is more pronounced for high income, younger and more active consumers while the increase in the amount spent is more pronounced for low income, younger and less active consumers.

In addition, the researchers found voice AI does not cannibalize other channels but instead boosts purchases elsewhere. They also learned voice-activated shopping leads to more search queries.

Even better personalization

Graham Cooke, CEO and co-founder of marketing personalization technology provider Qubit, said to expect personalization to become more contextually relevant for shoppers in 2020, from the offer of products and content and even how the content is displayed.

“Machine learning will play a bigger role in personalization initiatives next year as it allows brands to analyze and action large amounts of data in milliseconds, regardless of whether it’s coming from a laptop or smartphone,” he said. “The more contextually relevant experiences brands deliver, the more they will command the attention of the shopper, increasing the [long-term value] and share of wallet from that customer.”

As a result, he said customer-centricity will finally be fully realized because machine learning models will understand each customer individually, giving retailers the ability to send relevant emails to customers if they haven’t visited their website recently or have outstanding wishlist items, for example.

Gary Ballabio, director of business development for image and video management service Cloudinary, agreed retailers are turning to AI to deliver personalized messages to capture consumer attention.

“They recognize the importance of context, timing and relevancy in offering customers the right product or discount, but it will become increasingly important that the appearance of the message is personalized, too,” he said. “The human brain is built to retain and respond to visual information and winning retailers will be the ones that realize it’s just as critical to personalize the underlying image as the message served up with it.

Data portability

Amid the growing clamor for consumer data privacy and government intervention to give consumers the right to delete their data, Cooke said retailers will have to pay attention to new legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act or they’ll suffer.

“I believe the push for data privacy will give rise to new third-party applications that allow consumers to port their personal data into environments they can control,” he said. “This swap in data ownership will shift the power dynamic in the brand/shopper relationship, which will trigger a whole other set of changes, including the ways brands pitch and sell their products to consumers.”

@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.