On March 1-2, 2023, I attended the DX3 conference in Toronto. The presentation I enjoyed the most (by far) was by Staples Canada's Chief Commercial Officer, James DeFranco, on immediate trends in retail.
Thanks to Staples' privileged position in the market, he has a rather comprehensive view of the issues, and I really appreciated his candor and openness. During his speech, he mentioned around ten major changes. Without covering them all, I'm going to focus on the aspects that seem most relevant to Canadian retailers.
Photo credits DX3 Canada
1. New behaviors: health and precariousness
As we all know, the pandemic has had a profound effect on consumer habits, and some of these effects are here to stay. Take, for example, all the talk about health, both physical and mental. Retailers have to talk about it and respond to these new demands, whether in terms of assortment by offering ergonomic and beneficial products, or in the way they communicate. It sounds obvious, but I think it's a fundamental change. The famous "we're in it together" message needs to move from words to deeds.
On a different note, the whole notion of economic precariousness also calls for change. This means proposing more suitable payment methods, such as monthly instalments or financing offers. This applies to much more than just buying a car or a trip here!
2. The store as an experience
No, e-commerce hasn't killed the store - far from it! But the way we store is changing. The store is becoming a place of experience, something a website can never fully achieve. Instead of aisles and aisles of products (the same ones found online), the store becomes a place to handle, try, choose and test. For example, in the case of a chair for work, a consumer will try out several models in-store, but can then order all the "conveniences" such as a keyboard, mouse, paper, etc. online.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but the idea is to rethink the role of the store versus e-commerce, and not simply to copy the same experience on both channels.
3. The store as a service center
In the same vein of store transformation, we also need to review our offer and think much further ahead than simply selling products. Why not become a parcel collection center, whatever the brand? Or, in the case of Staples, offer workspaces? With hybrid working, retailers need to think in terms of the new expectations and behaviors of these new consumer segments, and get ahead of the curve.
Hybrid employees no longer have the services that a downtown office used to provide, but that doesn't mean their needs have disappeared! Whether it's printing, delivery, room reservation or even concierge and administrative services, there's a real need to be met.
4. Omnichannel has only just begun
In an ideal world, a consumer would have a shopping cart that follows them everywhere, no matter what channel they choose: website, store, mobile, etc. There are certainly operational and, above all, data challenges, but this major trend is here to stay.
More concretely, this means that an ABC customer can go into a store, try on products, add them to his shopping cart on his mobile, and once at home open the e-commerce site and continue his purchasing process. Who currently offers this continuity? Does a store clerk know that Mr. ABC is the same person who just ordered $5,000 worth of supplies online? To ask the question is to answer it.
The technology exists to do this, and the first retailers to do so will be setting the bar high. It already exists in Europe and Asia, and will inevitably become the norm in Canada.
5. The end of greenwashing?
Consumers, especially younger ones, are asking questions... and want answers! What concrete actions are retailers taking to reduce their carbon footprint, to "green" their supply chain, to offer eco-friendly products, to trace their origin? In terms of personnel, does diversity really exist, especially at management level?
These questions can no longer be "answered" by pretty marketing campaigns. What's also interesting is that retailers' social responsibility is becoming a determining factor for employer brand, almost more so than impact on sales. And in a context of labor shortages, we need to act sooner rather than later.
Here are five observations that are not predictions for 2030, but real changes that are already underway. Let's discuss them together, and above all, take action!