As consumer expectations rise and new innovations emerge, the pace of change in retail in 2019 will continue to accelerate with profound implications for the way retailers connect with their customers, an industry expert says.

Transforming the customer journey with a focus on the entire customer life cycle, leveraging omnichannel, making shipping profitable, using state-of-the-art technologies to manage stock and ‘smart’ returns are all of the trends set to define success for retailers this year, according to Raghav Sibal, Managing Director, ANZ, at Manhattan Associates.

Mr Sibal told Retailbiz that broadly, it is these five trends that will define and shape retailer’s success in the coming year.

  1. Holistic customer experience management

Ensuring that the customer experience is managed well throughout the entire customer life cycle is going to be increasingly important in 2019, Mr Sibal says.

This means that retailers need to manage the customer journey through every touchpoint, whether it’s physical or digital.

Investment in technologies that can bridge the gap between retailers and customers is going to become increasingly crucial as retailers strive to meet changing customer demands, he says.

“The one thing that is really now becoming more important is the experience a customer has with a retailer brand has to be consistent and seamless across different points of interaction. For most retailers still relying on limited technology giving store associates the ability to interact with customers coming in with physical contact in mind to know more about customer to presence a better.”

Modern technology and data gives retailers an invaluable opportunity to give value to face-to-face customer interactions, Mr Sibal says, by personalising their experience and having intelligent conversations with customers.

“This new era of customer engagement will allow associates – in the store and in call centres – to have actionable customer insights at their fingertips; offering better service and ensuring customer loyalty,” he said.

  1. Expansion of omnichannel fulfilment strategies

In 2019, the ability of retailers to meet consumer’s omnichannel purchasing behaviours is going to make or break retailers, Mr Sibal says.

For those without the ability to embrace omnichannel commerce, the future is bleak, he says, with a commitment to deliver anywhere anytime set to be more important than ever.

“It’s become an expectation that the end-consumer has. It’s that basic requirement the customer expects they want to be able to buy anymore and to be shipped anywhere they like. Retailers have to have a channel agnostic approach to how they’re operating,” he says.

  1. Making ship from store profitable

As omnichannel technology makes shipping from store more sustainable and profitable than ever, exploring this possibility could give retailers an upper-hand.

Equipping store associates with apps to guide them through tasks associated with orders and quickly fulfilling orders can also help streamline the process. An order management system that learns in real-time can also help, according to Mr Sibal.

“That’s the secret weapon. The opportunity here is for retailers to have a view of end to end network inventory across retail network, so this may include in-transit products, products in warehouse or stores. It gives retailers an opportunity to manage inventory at much faster pace,” he said.

  1. IoT enters the store with RFID leading the way

The Internet of Things is also an area of big opportunity for retailers in 2019, Mr Sibal says, giving retailers the chance to use services such as click and collect and ship from store to have better oversight of inventory.

The increasingly affordable nature of RFID chips also means that retailers have more knowledge than ever about their inventory, and using this to provide exceptional customer experience will be a big opportunity in 2019, he says

“RFID definitely has a place for the right retailer,” he says.

  1. Smart returns management

2019 will be the year when retailers need to embrace the rise of returns. After years of growth in online orders being returned for free and low or no cost shipping, it is likely that in 2019 a number of retailers will implement new policies to try to take back control, he says.

But retailers can also cushion themselves against the impact of returns by embracing online fitting tools, providing better merchandise descriptions and offering free return shipping.

Nonetheless, Mr Sibal says that a number of retailers are likely to roll-out new returns policies in response to changing consumer sentiment about returns.

“It is inevitable that returns are going to continue to grow and it’s already been happening. I truly believe that retailers have to take control back to some degree.”