Editor’s take -- retail: Scalable tech, reaching shoppers and a tight labor market

Retail has been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster so far this year, from some disappointing sales reports to an overall feeling of optimism and renewal as retailers and brands really start to crack the code of channel convergence and the new era of shopping. SmartBrief readers have been following along every day in our retail newsletters, and we’re taking a look at the stories and trends that have resonated the most through the first quarter of 2019.

Believe it or not, the most-clicked retail story of the year so far was about the now-Insta-famous “Amazon coat.” But that’s not what this post is about. Below, we examine the three biggest trends from Q1 of this year based on SmartBrief’s top-clicked retail stories and what they will mean through Q2 and beyond:

A practical approach to retail tech adoption

From NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show to tech-focused announcements from major retailers, so far this year the emphasis on retail technology has shifted from flashy gadgets and tools with a major cool factor to scalable technology that has practical applications for retail businesses and their customers. At Kroger, digital shelf tags are actually proving to influence the grocery shopping journey. And Target is working on combining its separate mobile apps into one streamlined app offering.

Where we go from here: In the recent past, tools like augmented and virtual reality have gotten all the attention. But they haven’t really proven their return on investment, as retailers struggle to scale the tools across shopping channels and store chains and shoppers have been slow to respond to them. Now, retailers are looking more closely at practical ways they can integrate tech tools into their supply chains, back-end operations and brick-and-mortar businesses to improve efficiencies, boost their bottom lines and provide their customers with the best possible shopping experiences. Look for more news about how retailers are continuing to achieve this throughout the year.

Reaching consumers in new ways

This year, retailers have been finding new, more authentic ways to reach shoppers. While social media and other more traditional methods of outreach are certainly still part of most retailers’ customer strategies, many are taking it a step further and taking the customer into account in their business plans for 2019. Retailers including American Eagle and Nordstrom are launching more inclusive ad campaigns this year, Target is testing a new loyalty program and Trader Joe’s and other brands are cutting plastic use and making similar commitments to sustainability to appeal to customers on deeper levels.

Where we go from here: 2019 is going to be the year of the customer. Through everything from product lines to sustainability and marketing efforts, retailers big and small are going to get personal with their core customers across their businesses. Brand loyalty is fleeting in the digital era, but retailers are figuring out the best ways to appeal to customers on levels that go beyond price. This year, customer outreach will take the form of efforts such as targeted private labels, apps and loyalty programs that optimize the customer experience and values-based programs that make shoppers feel good when they buy.

Navigating a tight labor market

With strong jobs and wage growth, it’s hard to avoid the effects of the tight labor market, no matter what industry you work in. For retailers, who already find it challenging to find and keep workers for their entry-level and temporary positions, this is especially true. Walmart is taking the state of the 2019 labor market seriously, offering incentives to recruit truck drivers, attendance bonuses for hourly workers and bonuses for fourth-quarter performance -- and Walmart won’t be the only retailer making those types of announcements this year.

Where we go from here: With all eyes on retail stores in 2019 as an integral part of a successful omnichannel strategy, there will likely be many more retailers who turn their eyes to attracting and holding onto a talented workforce. And while some might make moves to streamline teams to make them more efficient, retail employees should expect to see better, more tech-focused training, higher wages and more incentives to spur peak employee performance.

That wraps up SmartBrief’s retail editor’s take for Q1. Stay tuned for the Q2 editor’s take, when we’ll look in on some of the trends discussed here and see what others emerge as 2019 plays out. In the meantime, check out the full list of SmartBrief’s top Q1 retail stories below.

Straight from the source -- read the top retail stories from Q1

  1. How a jacket from China became the "Amazon coat"
  2. The face of retail in 2019
  3. Kroger finds digital shelf tags influence shoppers
  4. American Eagle, Nordstrom, Target ads go nontraditional
  5. Target expands new Target Circle perks program
  6. Walmart boosts pay to recruit 900 truck drivers
  7. Trader Joe's responds to call for less plastic use
  8. Walmart adds quarterly attendance bonuses
  9. Wellness gets a bigger role in Target's beauty aisles
  10. Kohl's tests in-store Weight Watchers studio
  11. Walmart's tech arm to create a new company
  12. Hudson Yards to usher in a new era of the mall
  13. Amazon adds virtual furniture-shopping tool
  14. Walmart employees to see $207M in performance bonuses
  15. Target to combine its suite of mobile apps

Interested in learning more on how to align your company with the trending topics and events of 2019? Get started with our 2019 Retail Industry Editorial Calendar

Julia Russell is SmartBrief's resident retail expert. She has been editing NRF SmartBrief and other retail newsletters since 2013, and she produces custom content covering retail, media, technology and telecom.