2016 has been so dominated by major cultural shifts that it’s easy to forget that some things haven’t changed. We still all get dressed for work in the morning, battle with the transport infrastructure and do our grocery shopping. But there have been some particular developments in retail that may have lasting ramifications for the customer journey as we know it.
Mobile and e-commerce have, of course, continued to grow, but this year has seen the rise of a new breed of brand owner: one who demonstrates a deeper understanding of the emerging discipline of user experience, and how it applies to retail.
Unilever is leading the pack - massively simplifying e-commerce thumbnails to make it so much easier for small-screen scrollers. We suspect that the role of packaging will start to shift next year, as brands need to spend less time shouting on shelf, and more time winning hearts at home. You have to boil down your visual assets to their simplest form.
Another, related, trend is the emergence of voice as the new interface. Touchscreens seem clumsy in comparison to the natural language capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. We expect that brands will have to work even harder to build salience - if you’re not even looking at the product when you order it, the brand is going to have to make sure that the visual interactions that you do have with it build a hotline straight to your subconscious. You have to stand for something in people’s memories alone (because they’re not even looking at you).
Finally, and moving away from the influence of digital, we expect to see a much greater value placed on customisation. Shoppers have so much choice that they will become very impatient with brands that can’t give them exactly what they want - so brands will respond by continuing to sharpen their customisation technology. Print and production methods have come a long way, with some brands even able to create personalised or unique product designs for selfie-obsessed millennials. And when consumers choose what their products look like, you have less and less control of your brand’s visual expression.
In a world where the speed of change is hampered only by the speed of the broadband network, brands need to be able to respond to change quickly - but without compromising brand integrity.
Which is why it’s more important than ever for brands to have a crystal clear idea of the role they play in the consumers’ lives - and to consistently deliver a razor sharp expression of what they stand for. Put simply, the old rules stand. Brands need to have clear stand for and standout. But the stakes are higher.
Vicky Bullen is CEO of Coley Porter Bell