Boldly Going: A Look At The Future of The Retail Sector

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a multi-part series – Retail Therapy – that focuses on the past, present, and future of the retail sector. The series will conclude on October 2, 2019 with a live stream panel discussion.

In the Star Trek television series, the starship Enterprise traveled the universe on a five-year mission to find new life and new civilizations, “boldly go where no one has gone before.” That’s an oddly accurate analogy to where the retail sector finds itself today. 

After more than a half-century of near-constant location expansion, the retailers find themselves searching for new ways to connect to the next generation of customers. By the end of 2019, nearly 12,000 retail locations may close while about half that number of new locations may open, according to analysts. The line between physical locations and online sales continues to blur while the shopping experience becomes more important than ever.

New businesses and new business models are changing the way consumers prefer to shop, according to Halie LeSavage of the popular newsletter Retail Brew. “The companies who are going to survive in the future of retail are those who have a really strong sense of who their customer is and what the product is that they are selling,” LeSavage explained on the BBB National Program’s >Better Series podcast. “Customers are not just going to them to shop, but also to find advice and insights in other areas of their lives where they interact with products.”

One trend driving retail change is the fact that shoppers are increasingly interested in the shopping experience and they want to make sure the products they buy are both sustainable and have a purpose. “What has made a number of the new retailers successful is that their products actually fill a gap in a market,” notes LeSavage. “Whether it’s a size or the technology behind the product, it’s not just another frivolous thing that’s going on the market. Trying to be all things to all people right off the bat is not going to make them successful.”

With all the talk of a “retail apocalypse” LeSavage is among those who are optimistic about the direction of the retail sector, especially traditional retailers who are transitioning to what’s next. “If traditional retailers can first think about ways to optimize the real estate that they already have to drive customers into stores and remind them of a brand experience that goes beyond a product, that’s one method to keep them competitive.”

“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in the retail industry,” said LeSavage. “I’m seeing a lot of trends that are indicative of innovation and reinvention across retailers of all breeds.

To listen to the Retail Therapy podcast series, visit the BBB National Program’s Podcast website, listen on your Apple Podcast app, or your favorite streaming platform.