Contextual Retail: Retail in a Platform

Just saying the word retail these days can make marketers and businesses shudder. Not only is this an ambiguous term these days with the proliferation of sales channels available to consumers, but it also brings feelings of demise as we think about traditional brick and mortar shopping. From what seems to be a driving trend, advances in e-commerce and logistics, consumers are opting for convenience over physical trial more and more. We haven’t seen this type of behavioral transformation since Sears Roebuck and Company launched their mail order catalog. 

Consumer Behaviors

Convenience: The proliferation of mobile shopping and always on access to information, consumers are always bouncing in and out of a shopping process. Whether it’s spawned by an ad or something they experience in the physical world, the mobile device allows shoppers the ability to hop into a shopping moment at the drop of a hat. This Zero Moment of Truth, gives consumers a lot of power and say when it comes to how they shop and purchase, taking away from traditionally minded retailers. 

Personalization: Shopping online or on mobile provides a tremendously more simple and seamless experience than it’s physical counterpart. With ecommerce platforms saving payment and shipping information, all a shopper has to do is click a button and, bam, they just purchased something. They don’t even have to swipe a card or interact with anyone. This personalization doesn’t just support the moment of transaction, but purchase behaviors can provide recommendations that they could never experience in the physical world (outside of having a personal shopper). 

Ecommerce: Ecommerce is on a growth trajectory that is bringing down traditional brick and mortar’s left and right. Not only does ecommerce provide the convenience and personalization shoppers are becoming accustomed to, but it’s being seen as more of an unbiased shopping process with the integration of reviews from other consumers. Not only that, but ecommerce is always on, allowing the shopper to shop and buy on their terms and their convenience. 

Shopping Trends

Business Models: The consumer trends are opening up many different business models to expand the value of shopping online. With deal sites like Gilt and Groupon, consumers got accustomed to purchasing many different types of products, services and experiences in a habitual manner. Subscription companies like Birchbox created and opportunity to drive sales and trial at the same time. Now there is an emergence of second hand products being distributed at scale. 

Logistics + Trial: As ecommerce technology has evolved, so has shipping and delivery, offering customers a quick response to a purchase and the ability to easily return a product if needed. Zappos started the trends by allowing free return shipping to try on shoes at home. Amazon Prime has completely shifted the idea of shipping time expectation to sometimes within and hour. Casper has even shifted an entire category by using bed in a box technology to easily ship and return a mattress. 

Direct to Consumer: Traditional supply chains are being completely transformed by upstarts and emerging brands leaning into direct to consumer relationships. Companies like Warby Parker and Casper have found success by creating and end-to-end relationship with their consumers by offering products directly from their manufacturing to the consumer. This not only provides a more consistent and holistic experience, but it also reduces a tremendous amount of cost for the consumer by taking out the middle man between brand and consumer. 


So what does this all mean? Given the complexities of the new environment for retail and retail channels, consumers have never been more empowered to shop on their terms, how they want. However, this is creating a transformative world for businesses and brands to curate an omnichannel shopping environment that is successful. To win, brands have to not only create an interconnected front end experience across ecommerce, social commerce and physical retail, but they also have to deliver the logistics, support and simplicity that consumers are beginning to expect from the brands they purchase. 

As brands, we now live in a contextual retail environment where consumers can jump into shopping and purchase mode at the moment of insight.

As brands, we now live in a contextual retail environment where consumers can jump into shopping and purchase mode at the moment of insight. We have to not only be prepared to capitalize on these moments, but we also have to continually innovate to expand value at these moments. If there is one thing we can take away from the evolution of shopping of the last 5 years, is things will continually evolve. 

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