Retail trends 2019: days of future past

This is the first of at least three 2019 retail trends articles, not least because I will be reporting from NRF January 13-15.

Having reviewed what everyone has already said about 2019, going all the way back to 2015, it is clear that there is a lot of repetition, although interestingly Safari served up much more up-to-date and challenging content than Google. Anyone know why?

Too many people have been saying the same things for too long. Retailers already know all this or if they don’t, they are probably already staring Chapter 11/bankruptcy/CVA in the face. Good retailers know what trends still say:

  • the customer has changed and travels faster than retail
  • channels are merging
  • social channels are buying channels
  • supply chains are having to shift from managing bulk to individual orders
  • data is getting analysed but not acted on
  • the shift from stores to online has already broken most buying, allocation, merchandising and promotions models
  • AI still holds more promise than it is yet delivering

In short, trends junkies love to talk about the future but not about the present. Most tech vendors live in the future, while retailers live in the present; vendors talk about the art of the possible while retailers talk about the science of the practical. You say potato, I say Mr Potato Head.

So, I want to talk about trends that retailers need to know about that they can act on. This is the only way to serve both parties – vendors want to sell, so they should be focusing on what can get delivered now; while retailers want to change their businesses but without destroying the business in the meantime.

The retail industry is littered with examples of retailers who embraced the future and failed; one such is now in a permanent vortex of reinvention that is unlikely to end well. Others are in rethink mode with a 50/50 chance of emerging as a viable business.

Some, however, have managed to orchestrate their tech strategy and development plans so beautifully that they are putting on sales and margin whilst at the same time evolving into lean, customer connected, digital businesses.

If you want to look at trends that will be of value to both tech vendors and retailers, then look at what they are doing, which is why I am grateful for blogs such as this which provides inspirational examples of retailers using tech in smart ways.

The examples are not all tech, which is another thing to remember; trends editorials always tend to be about tech, whereas we all need a reminder that tech is mostly an enabler not the solution in itself.

More of this next week. Meanwhile, check out our other editorials at

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