The rapid evolution in the way consumers shop leaves retailers with a dizzying array of options. Here are four principles that can help a retailer set priorities and implement them effectively.

Scott Reese, chief technology officer, Harbor Retail

Scott Reese, chief technology officer, Harbor Retail

The retail landscape is constantly evolving, and this change brings with it exciting new trends. But if any trends are to survive well into the future and become fixtures in the industry, retail companies need focused leaders and clear goals.

Just look at Rent the Runway. The prominent apparel rental service recently added accessible brands like J. Crew and Levi’s to its catalog. Rather than limiting its collection to designer dresses, the company is competing with major retailers that sell the same clothes. But the move’s not without risk—jeans aren’t the most cutting-edge product on the market.

However, Rent the Runway projects that these new additions will comprise almost 25 percent of its entire inventory. And the brands stand to gain more awareness—after all, 98 percent of Rent the Runway subscribers encounter a brand for the first time through the service. Any retailer’s risks, then, can pay off. They just need the right strategies behind them.

The tech comes last, the customer comes first, and you are the magic in the middle.

What’s Trending in Retail

Every retail trend requires immense creativity, which can be a financial burden. Budget holders, for instance, are increasingly responsible for innovating stores without breaking the bank. They have to maintain their bottom line while enhancing the customer experience.


Seeing as anyone with a laptop or mobile device can write an online review, brands are providing more incentives for customers to return to stores. Fifty-four percent are adding discounts, and Google has partnered with Walmart to provide voice shopping for a more informative, interactive experience.

Price reductions and artificial intelligence assistants, though, are only the beginning. Retailers are reconfiguring their stores’ layouts to accommodate customers’ unconscious shopping habits. They know that 90 percent of customers turn right when they enter the store, so retailers are strategically placing items to tell a coherent story from there.

Turning Retail Trends Into Success

These initiatives to capitalize on retail trends that keep bringing customers back are all daring, promising moves, but without the following techniques in place, they’re bound to become nothing more than a nostalgic story:

1. Make many small bets.

Everyone knows that failure is the first step to learning and a key to success. That said, placing all your bets on an untested strategy is a one-way ticket to a lot of résumés being suddenly updated.


For instance, no business should suddenly switch its entire business model to some new, costly tech solution just because it seems like everyone else is. Instead, in small and steady increments, retailers should gradually introduce new, big ideas throughout the coming years. This method reduces risk, accelerates innovation, and saves money, all without limiting the retailer’s creativity.

2. Get data structures in place.

Even the most conservative risks mean nothing if they’re not carefully planned to scale. Data structures, for example, are crucial to scaling any tech that engages customers in-store and across platforms. New devices are some of the most expensive items on the shelves, and every customer is going to try them out.

To avoid joining the ranks of the 86 percent of projects that fail due to process-related issues, chief information officers must oversee the continuous improvement of data structures and data movement security as retailers update their in-store experiences.


3. Don’t go it alone.

Data structures aren’t the only technical consideration for retailers. That’s what makes investing in an innovation partner essential. No one has all the answers to pull off fast-moving, complex retail solutions. And quite frankly, many of the existing in-store experience story and tech elements are boring and overdone. How many “press this button to watch a video” experiences are there across stores? How many of them aren’t even working?

Brand leaders, and those who want to become leaders in their category, do not sit on last year’s successes. They are constantly searching for new partners who can help them create a better story, make sure the story works, and get it all done fast. Last year, Microsoft partnered with Nielsen to enhance retail outlets and the fast-moving consumer goods market. Companies of all sizes, then, need help balancing their ideas with their limitations. Who will you add to your network this quarter who will help you deliver something new and powerful before the end of this year?

4. Take control of your story.

Get to know your customers—I mean, really get to know them. Connect with them emotionally, right where they are today, at a gut level. Then, tell the story that they want and need to hear in order to make a positive decision about your product. Once you’ve determined that story, stick to it and use tech to enable that story. The tech comes last, the customer comes first, and you are the magic in the middle. Be the magic.

Gillette’s new ad, for instance, responds to part of the company’s often ignored audience. Historically, a mere 21 percent of women’s conversations about shaving have been positive, but that figure rose to 51 percent when women discussed the ad. Advanced analytics facilitate these radical departures, helping retailers adapt their story to cultural changes in their industry.


The current cultural zeitgeist is temporary. 2019’s popular trends might soon become obsolete, and no one can predict the next wave of fads. All retailers can do is maintain an engaging experience that evolves with us—that’s a trend that will never go out of style.

Harbor Retail provides retailers and brands with a range of services, including design and build, technology and manufacturing.