The big shift: What does 2019 have in store for retailers?
From Brexit to Glastonbury, which key events are expected to shape retail over the coming year?
What key events and trends will have an impact on our retail clients and their customers in 2019? As the pace of innovation accelerates and changing patterns of consumer behaviour approach kaleidoscopic levels, retailers will be looking to adapt to rising expectations.
What happened in 2018?
It was a year of highs and lows to say the least. With extreme conditions at both ends of the scale, the great British weather had a big say in how we spent our cash in 2018. Consumer spending growth slowed in March as The Beast from the East kept shoppers at home, then soared throughout the summer as people made the most of the sky-high temperatures. Pubs did especially well in the sustained heatwave, particularly during England’s exciting upward trajectory at the World Cup in Russia.
However, it was a tough year on the high street. Following several years of rising overheads and changing consumer behaviour, the high street has been forced to undergo considerable structural change with closures everywhere from Homebase to House of Fraser. In spite of this, retail sales have proven robust as sales rose in the first half of 2018 driven by strong performance in food and drink.
Having grown at ten times the rate of bricks-and-mortar in early 2018, online now accounts for almost 20 per cent1 of retail sales.
The truth is that for many of us, bricks-and-mortar stores are no longer essential. If we accept that the role of the store is evolving; now is the time for retailers to embrace this as a positive. Investment in innovation and customer experience will be key for brands looking to stay competitive in the coming months and years.
Those striving for reinvention will be looking with laser focus at refining the customer journey with slick payments, delivery and stellar overall service. We’re already seeing this in many sectors, with Amazon trialling cashless supermarkets, fashion stores like Oasis experimenting with concessions in superstores and retailers offering one-click point-of-sale loan agreements for larger purchases like cars and furniture.
Economic and political turmoil dominated headlines in 2018, as strained Brexit negotiations came to a head. Amid fears that a no-deal Brexit could trigger an economic shock, sterling weakened against the dollar and the euro in 2018 and business investment entered its most difficult period since the 2008 financial crisis.
"Having grown at ten times the rate of bricks-and-mortar in early 2018, online now accounts for almost 20 per cent of retail sales"
What’s on the horizon?
Deal or no-deal
Set to be the defining political event of our time, Brexit is likely to whip up anxiety among retailers and their customers when the UK withdraws from the EU in March; at present just 23 per cent2 of Brits feel positive about negotiations.
Already fuelling uncertainty, Brexit has triggered a political and economic domino effect in the UK. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) forecasts are being downgraded intermittently, a growing number of firms like Goldman Sachs and Unilever are gearing operations away from the UK and the nation seems to be losing some of its appeal with EU workers.
Looking ahead, GDP predictions for 2019 vary. Most expect growth to be modest at best at around 1.2 per cent3, although analysts say this depends heavily on the state of the global economy. In a bid to help nurture UK businesses, the government has pledged to cut corporation tax from 20 to 17 per cent4 by 2020.
While the real impact of Brexit in the retail sector remains to be seen, it’s reported that a large proportion of British consumers believe prices will rise by 61 per cent5 following Brexit. It’s fair to say that UK retailers should brace themselves at this point, taking preventative measures (as outlined below) wherever possible.
Rays of sunshine
As the experience economy goes from strength to strength, people are spending less on material possessions and investing more in making memories.
With Stormzy confirmed as the first headliner, Glastonbury is expected to inject some vigour into the economy when it returns following its fallow year in 2018. Having driven consumer spending with ticket sales in October 2018, in 2016 it was estimated that Glasto boosts spending in the South West by as much as £35m as thousands of festival-goers spend, spend, spend both on and off-site. This accounts for everything from on-site street food, glitter and wellies to off-site B2B transactions with local stage and lighting companies.
How can retailers weather the storm?
According to Retail Week’s 2019 Global Consumer Report, just 11 per cent6 of consumers feel more confident about 2019 than they did 2018. Many are expecting their personal finances to fall, and that they will have less spending power when it comes to big purchases like cars or furniture. 61 per cent7 of respondents have £250 per month or less in disposable income.
"It's important to know your customers and how they are planning to spend. This means getting to grips with their purchasing journey, what encourages them to spend and how they like to pay..."
Know your audience
With countless reports emerging this year urging brands to focus on Generation Z, you would be forgiven for overlooking the importance of older generations. While older consumers are more likely to be careful with their discretionary income, the 35-44 group command the greatest spending power. Interestingly, it’s the asset-rich but cash-flow poor over 55s who are really feeling the pinch.
It’s important to know your customers and how they are planning to spend. This means getting to grips with their purchasing journey, what encourages them to spend and how they like to pay – particularly in light of rising inflation.
Optimise for digital payments
Debit cards remained the payment method of choice for most in 2018, as the UK continued its metamorphosis towards a cashless society. Apple Pay is currently the most popular payment method for 22 per cent8 of 18-24 year olds; stores will want to make sure they accept digital payments like these in 2019 if they want to keep their young customers tapping.
Be a part of the conversation
With confidence low across the UK; Brexit will continue to inform how we behave as consumers throughout 2019. Ethical considerations will also continue to rise – in the UK, 45 per cent9 of consumers are more worried about the environment than they were in 2017.
According to one report, 82 per cent10 of customers always buy from a company with which they have high emotional engagement, 70 per cent11 will spend twice as much on brands they feel an affinity with and 81 per cent12 will share their love of a brand with friends and family.
Consumer expectations will continue to revolve around certainty about when goods will arrive and super-speed delivery; 56 per cent13 of 18-24 year-olds want same-day delivery.
Personalisation is the future. As people become more aware of their limited disposable income, making sure that ads are well-targeted will become more important than ever. In light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation that came into effect in May, businesses will need to ensure they have the all the necessary permissions and data in place.
What can you do in 2019?
Price will remain a key battleground with deals and promotions resonating across most markets. Giving shoppers more control and flexibility over their purchases, point-of-sale finance remains a powerful driving force in retail. Those that offer it see an increase in sales and those who use it report overwhelmingly positive experiences – especially with the introduction of digital loan-signing tools like Sign Anywhere. In a recent Barclays Partner Finance consumer survey, 94 per cent14 of respondents said they would probably or definitely use store finance again.
In 2019, customers will expect their shopping experience to reflect them at every stage of the journey; whether it’s their ethics and values, their budget, or their preferred delivery method. It's not all doom and gloom. For most retailers, investment in innovation and a commitment to staying nimble and flexible are all that is needed to attract and thrive in the current climate.