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The Future of Retail — Industry Experts Weigh in

Over 3,000 industry experts are expected to descend on the ninth annual DX3 Canada retail, marketing and technology conference Tuesday in Toronto. And the big question they have all got to be asking themselves is what’s next?

Retail is in flux. The old rules don’t apply. Even the new online rules don’t always apply. What does apply is actually kind of anyone’s guess.

So, just how does one survive and thrive in a rapidly changing retail market where the perception is that brick-and-mortar stores are dying, malls are done, and e-commerce — whatever form it will take — will rule the future?

In a pre-event survey conducted by DX3 on the retail future, several industry experts weighed in on the future, the challenges and keys to surviving and thriving.

Physical stores are slowly giving way to online shopping. Still, the future of retail may prove a balance between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce.

National Public Relations Associate Vice President of Marketing and Brand Strategy Tara Wickwire views adaptability as a key ingredient to future success.

“And by that I mean the ability to adapt to all sorts of different situations and interacting with a wide range of personalities,” she said in the survey. “If a person has the skill to read a situation and adapt accordingly, then they will be well served.”

Evio Beauty Group CEO and founder Brandi Leifso thinks that future change in her business will come from the relationship between retailer and brand, which she says is “coming to a head” in the near future.

“Inevitably the relationship needs to change from the way it's always been done. The challenge lies in that many of these retailers are large organizations now, and change happens slowly and often with resistance. The opportunity is, change is happening!”

Change can be seen in the sheer size of retail. With bankruptcies in big chains like Sears or Pier 21, the model for success appears to be trending smaller, be it the sheer number of stores or even the size of a store or restaurant. If more folks are ordering food online, who needs a large dining room?

On the flip side, malls are regrouping, with even the successful ones planning expansions that will turn their shopping centres into communities with residences, parks and expanded entertainment. The focus, it seems, is now even more on the customer.

“I foresee more and more retailers leading with a defined purpose,” IKEA Canada Head of Digital Kevin Gamble said in the survey. “By defining to customers what companies stand for, retailers encourage emotional connections with their consumers that help develop brand loyalty, brand awareness and the feeling of a common purpose.” 

Eaton Centre, Toronto

Of course, the internet has become an indispensable tool in collecting and interpreting customer needs, wants and desires.

Loblaw Media Head of Strategy Amina Mattern said the near future in retail will place greater importance on first-party data.

“Transparency in the use of customer data and privacy, holding partners accountable for delivering on advertising effectiveness and the concept that an open, democratic Internet will always prevail,” she wrote.

The use of personal data always raises a red flag with consumers and privacy critics. Increasingly, companies have had to find a happy medium between collecting data and customer concerns.

“Companies are increasingly taking a stance on what they will and will not use your personal data for,” said Gamble, who said IKEA is developing a more customer-friendly strategy on understanding its customers.

“IKEA will give customers the ability to decide what information IKEA collects during their online shopping experience. Importantly, this information will be placed in easy-to-see spaces throughout the shopping experience and delivered in a simple, straightforward way,” he said. “In the current landscape, informing customers and giving them control over their personal data has never been more important.”

In the new, legal cannabis industry, customer information remains key.

“The most immediate change we're keeping an eye on is the proliferation of deep data insights,” said Jon Kamin, chief revenue officer at Lift & Co., which focuses on cannabis technology and media.

“We are starting to see who the cannabis consumer is, and who the potential cannabis consumer may be.”

Of course, making your retail mark through all the internet buzz and distractions remains an increasing challenge for the future. It isn’t enough to have an internet presence if nobody knows you are there.

Some online stores like Warby Parker and Frank and Oak have actually turned to physical stores as a way to up their customer profile and — as statistics have supported — increase web traffic.

That’s right, the new online retail trend is brick-and-mortar. Come for the new glasses or clothes but remember to check out our website later.

“One thing of course is the general onslaught of information and the cluttered airwaves,” Wickwire said. “We as communicators and marketers need to figure out how to show up thoughtfully and cut through the noise.  At that same time, there is an unprecedented thirst for content and there is no limit to the creativity we can use to bring that content and those stories to life.”