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EDITORIAL How retail needs to look to the media sector for its next evolution

How people consumer media services will soon reshape how retail needs to operate (Image: Mood Media)

News that Dunelm has continued to grow sales online and offline with stores open shows just how omni-channel retail now is. Its customers want to do both – often at the same time, if its click and collect numbers are anything to go by.

The growth at Dunelm is very much in line with the trends being seen right across retail. A survey out this week suggests that the UK saw a 46% rise in ecommerce in 2020, with consumers spending as much as £110bn online, even with the shops open.

Something ASOS knows only too well, as it sees sales continue to grow, citing that fashion purchasing at the younger end of the market is thriving online, even as rival stores open up.

This shift in shopping habits to being more hybridised is predicated on using technology. After all, consumers are rapidly embracing tech as their shopping shifts; retailers need to be investing to be right there with them.

Such tech investment in strategic and tactical changes are very much the next step in ecommerce evolution. The likes of Decathlon and Express are both investing in creating their own marketplaces – something that a growing number of retailers are looking to do – and sellers using these ‘enterprise marketplaces’ are seeing exciting increases in sales.

But the need to look at technology goes further than that: the very nature of how consumers live their lives is reshaping the way consumers shop and will inform what retail looks like in the months ahead.

According to the latest Retail X Media Sector report out this week, the way consumers interact with ‘media’ services for entertainment offers some vital lessons for retailers as it shows them where their customers are and what their customers are doing – and what channels and technology they are using.

Consumers have become increasingly wedded to streamed online entertainment: music is increasingly streamed, TV and video content too. Even games and gaming is starting to be played live over the web. This move to streamed entertainment – paid for as an all-you-can-eat subscription service is already starting to change how they perceive retail.

Today’s consumers, especially at the younger end of the market, expect retail brands to be like their entertainment brands: engaging, limitless and cross-platform. That goes for retail as much as it does everything else.

The increasing use of AR, VR, gamification and smart devices by shoppers to do other things is also going to play through to retail. While AR and VR in retail may seem to be the stuff of the future, very soon consumers will be so used to it as part of their entertainment mix that they will easily adopt it elsewhere.

Using media channels to market and engage these consumers is also going to be vital. More people game, stream music and VOD than watch broadcast TV, so perhaps that is where marketing effort should look? Social too, plays a vital role in gluing this all together.

This is backed up by this week’s guest comment, which looks squarely at the role AI is going to play in retail. Retailers worldwide are already looking at how to deliver better everything using it: from customer service to marketing to delivery. The times are a-changing, indeed.

AI is going to be the cornerstone of everything – it already drives much of the streaming content and recommendations and is already playing a behind the scenes role in retail, especially some of the larger marketplaces. Soon it will be the bedrock – along with the data that powers it – behind all online and offline business.

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