To return one last time to a recurring theme thrown up by compiling the RetailX Brand Index, it has for many companies been a year of consolidation within the retail sector, of bedding in previous initiatives.
But while we also have warned against the risks of focusing too narrowly on operational matters at the expense of retail pizazz, it is worth keeping in mind that consolidation can encompass the idea of improving the customer experience through reliability and consistency.
That’s a key point because, in the years ahead, the idea of consistency will only become more important within retail. This is because the advent of faster digital technologies, initially via the roll-out of 5G but later through the advent of the Internet of Things, will further increase our access to information. In such a world, if we as consumers can always find the cheapest prices instantly, the service levels on offer will become an even more crucial point of differentiation.
This should give direct-selling brands and retail brands an advantage. Without a third party mediating the relationship between brand and consumer, it will be easier for these businesses to shape the customer experience based on information gathered directly from their customers.
But direct-selling brands and retail brands should not underestimate more traditional retailers. While whole sectors of the retail sector can and do face problems because of changes in the market – witness the recent travails of department stores – these changes often throw up new kinds of retailers and retail experiences.
Wider developments within society can have a similar effect. Environmental issues, for instance, suddenly seem front and centre in our culture. It therefore seems legitimate to ask whether consumers will continue to favour international brands with long supply chains such as Nike, or whether they will favour brands that are more local in focus.
In which case, big retail brands and direct-selling brands could be the companies facing new kinds of problems – although, of course, these established brands may find new ways to reassure their consumers by changing the way they do things.
Whatever happens, and it’s a perilous business making predictions about where retail is headed, the dance between traditional retailers, retail brands and direct-selling brands looks set to continue for a while yet. Meantime, back in the present, direct-selling brands and retail brands are often the companies doing the most to shape the market.