OPINION: What retail trends can we expect from 2018?

As we head into 2018, Helen Masters, founder of Pudding Retail Lingerie Training & Consultancy, predicts the three retail trends you won’t be able to ignore.

It’s that time of year when retailers may have been able to pause for a second – the Christmas orders (hopefully) arrived on time, customers (hopefully) got the right presents and there’s cash in the bank with enough stock left for a decent sale (but not too much stock of course!).

If that sounds familiar, well done for getting through the busiest trading period of the year, at a time when, let’s face it, a lot of retailers are finding it tough.

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Helen Masters, founder of Pudding Retail Lingerie Training & Consultancy.

Helen Masters, founder of Pudding Retail Lingerie Training & Consultancy.

Of course, nobody can ignore the Brexit juggernaut and the impacts on our industry – whether it is rising product costs, changes to VAT charges for customers in Europe, fewer staff from outside the UK or simply a lack of consumer confidence impacting spending, the chances are we will all be affected.

But the trends we’ll see in 2018 go beyond Brexit.

Whether your business has thrived or just about survived in 2017, the big question now is what does next year have in store? As retailers, we can never stay still, so how about using that well-earned pause to look at the retail trends we can expect to affect lingerie retailers in 2018? Here’s the lowdown on the three trends you simply won’t be able to ignore.

The Rise and Rise of Technology
Bored of hearing about how important the web is? Fed up with customers coming in store for a bra fitting before going to buy somewhere cheaper online? Or are you at the forefront of the technological curve?
Whatever your perspective, there’s no stopping the tide of technology and the far reaching impacts on our industry:

Virtual Reality: 2018 is set to see technological advances such as virtual reality advance, with big brands investing money and effort into working out how to embrace VR to engage shoppers. Consumer-facing applications that let customers virtually try on clothing will become more prevalent.

Memomi, a smart mirror technology company, has developed solutions that allow consumers to ‘virtually try on’ anything from sunglasses to sundresses. Neiman Marcus is reportedly testing a clothing-related version of the technology, and in our own industry, Rigby & Peller’s virtual mirror features a digital body scanner, which is said to create a 3D model of the upper body, recording over 140 measurements in less than a minute and determining the body type.

The mirror then photographs the customer in every product they try on and displays the images on a monitor, allowing them to compare each product immediately, and choose their favourites – wow!

5G: 2018 will also herald the arrival of 5G – meaning even faster mobile speeds. This presents a great opportunity for customers to be able to access the image-dense content needed to choose between lingerie styles online – a trend that’s likely to see mobile shopping increase even further.

So what does it mean? Well, you may not be about to invest in a virtual mirror, but whatever your business, it’s important to ensure technology works for you and adds value to your customers and your business. Whether it’s offering advice on Skype to customers across the world, bra fitting videos that can be accessed from home or interactive size charts – use technology to make your business more successful in 2018.

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Marketing in the New World
The days of the tried and tested magazine ad and local PR feature being enough to attract customers are gone. While these tools still have their place, marketing has moved to a new level.

Trusted Influencers: The rise of fake news was particularly notable in 2017 and has developed scepticism in many of us. This in turn has created a sceptical consumer who is a lot more cynical and less likely to trust advertising. Even so-called ‘independent’ reviews (think Trip Advisor) are mistrusted, so what makes consumers buy? Marketing specialists refer to ‘ trusted influencers’ as the key to unlocking purchasing for many retailers, which is good news for lingerie retailers.

For years we have cultivated those loyal customers who spread the word and in 2018, we need to do that more than ever. Throw in a few higher profile endorsers of your business, and you’re on to a winner. That doesn’t have to mean celebrities – local complimentary clothing retailers, hairdressers, jewellers, beauty salons – anyone who comes into contact with your target customer – are all a potential source of referrals in 2018 – and that’s a lot cheaper than paid for advertising.

The Insta-World: The face of advertising itself is changing too – the rise of ‘on demand’ TV is set to continue, with fewer of us watching traditional TV ads year on year. That means brands have to find other ways of reaching their customers – and social media is an ever growing source. According to Mintel, 2018 will be the year of Insta-Shopping. “Instagram has been the go-to place for discovering fashion brands and gaining outfit inspiration for a while, but 2018 is the year that shopping on the platform is tipped to take off,” the market research firm said in a report. So while it may seem very much the preserve of the millennials, businesses who want to be here in 10 years’ time will need to get on board the Insta-bus now.

The Data Goldmine: For retailers, your database should be very much your goldmine in 2018. However, as shoppers become more and more savvy, they also become more and more protective over which organisations they share information with, particularly in light of some of the high profile data breaches we have seen in 2017. The good news is that lingerie retailers are in the best possible position to overcome this – who else has that level of trust, intimacy and familiarity with their customers?

Body Positivity & Self Esteem: An important trend for lingerie retailers in 2018 is the forecast growth of the ‘Body Positivity’ brigade. What began as an antidote to the heavily airbrushed marketing campaigns that shoppers are exposed to on a daily basis has developed into customers being loud and proud about their bodies, and in 2018, retailers will need to take note.

Forward-thinking companies such as ASOS, and the independent lingerie subscription service Project Lingerie, are already on the case, featuring models with stretch marks and curves, so how long before the lingerie industry starts to get a backlash against ‘too perfect’ models?

2017 has seen a conversation about mental illness being held in the mainstream media (even the Royals got involved), and as lingerie retailers we have a unique opportunity to help women feel great about their bodies.

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The High Street Fights Back
One thing is certain: despite all these advances, lingerie retail is one area where a bricks and mortar presence is still of real value to customers. However, like everything else around us, the traditional bricks and mortar model needs to evolve. 2018 will see traditional 10 to 5, five-days-a-week businesses come under more pressure to make a decent living, while longer opening hours, click and collect, and next or same-day delivery, coupled with an in-store experience that is social and fun, will be key.

The Amazon Backlash: One outside bet is on the growth of the ‘Amazon backlash’ with shoppers realising they prefer independent local businesses and online stores with excellent service and a human touch rather than faceless organisations, and an increase in the number of online brands creating a physical presence in some form. Wishful thinking? Watch this space.

Whatever 2018 has in store for you, here’s hoping it’s a successful one. 2017 hasn’t been easy so let’s salute the businesses that have survived and make 2018 the year they thrive.

Helen Masters is the former owner of retail store Pudding Lingerie and current owner of Pudding Retail Lingerie Training & Consultancy. For low cost consultancy, a range of training courses for retailers and brands and a free initial trial, contact consulting@puddinglingerie.com or 07789921097, or visit www.puddinglingerie.com

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