At first glance, the queues for 2016’s hot-ticket holiday item, Snapchat Spectacles, might not have looked all that different from the round-the-block lines that formed for the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 20 years ago. But a closer inspection reveals how the simple act of shopping has been quietly transformed during that time.
Rather than waiting at the mall to make their purchase, Snapchat’s hopeful customers were lining up to buy specs at Snapbot vending machines in exotic locales such as the Grand Canyon, the Rose Bowl and Big Sur.
From limited releases of hot products sold in the unlikeliest of places to personalized shopping experiences that meld the online and offline world, the world of retail is poised to get even more interesting in the year ahead. Here’s a look at what’s in store:
Stores are out, experiences are in
Ten years ago, walking into a cool boutique to see a DJ spinning was novel. Today, it’s about the least a store can do to keep up with the times. Brands that are standing out are pulling out the stops to turn shopping into a rich and immersive experience.
Back to Snapchat, for example: selling those specs via vending machines was a quirky touch, but the real genius was in putting them in oddball locations. By doing that, Snapchat turned the simple act of shopping into a treasure hunt and adventure — even for those who didn’t manage to snag a pair before they sold out.
Similarly, brick-and-mortar outlets are also upping their game. Now that anyone can buy anything online, stores that are staying relevant are offering highly curated and immersive experiences. Whether it’s yoga classes and running clinics at Lululemon or grabbing a haircut and an espresso at Frank + Oak’s flagship Toronto store, we’ll see stores become less about being a place to consummate a transaction than a place to immerse yourself in a lifestyle.
Forget faceless brands, connection is key
Back in the day, you had a personal connection with the shops on Main Street. Malls and big-box stores changed all that. These days, however, we’re no longer content to buy from faceless — even if well-known — brands, and smart retailers are using creative tools to build a personal relationship with would-be buyers.
Currently, nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the world of celebrity. Last year, for example, the likes of Drake and the Weeknd extended their personas into popup shops and full-scale brand lines that give fans more of what they want: direct ways to connect with their favourite personalities.
Meanwhile, Kith NYC designer Ronnie Fieg recently used Instagram to create a real-time window into a product launch event in Aspen. What we’re seeing in all of these cases is online sellers leveraging technology to humanize and personalize a transaction — emphasizing the link between maker and user — which is a far cry from the kind of shopping experience you get in a big-box store.
Evolution — and democratization — of the flash sale
Flash Sales are a time-honored tradition in the world of retail. But enter the Internet and things get a lot more interesting.
These days, putting a time limit on a product or price isn’t just a means to unload overstock, it’s become standard practice for product launches. Celeb cosmetics queen Kylie Jenner has expertly employed this technique, with her limited edition birthday and holiday collections flying off the virtual shelf.
But, of course, bots and resellers have also infiltrated the online sales space, with everything from Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers to Hatchimals winding up on eBay for several times the retail price. In the year ahead, you can expect smart companies to come up with ways to ensure the right people — actual customers and fans with a history with the brand — are being ushered to the front of the queue. (Shopify launched one product aimed at solving this problem this year, which allows buyers to check out with one tap and sellers to handle thousands of orders per minute.)
Article Credits: Harley Finkelstein, Forbes