Looking Back: Retail
23 : 12 : 19

Throughout 2019, the retail sector continued to embrace digitisation to establish new methods of attainment and enhance the e-commerce experience.

The Trend: Community Commerce

Community Commerce visuals by Pitch Studios for The Future Laboratory
Community Commerce visuals by Pitch Studios for The Future Laboratory
Community Commerce visuals by Pitch Studios for The Future Laboratory

Retail monoliths such as Amazon and Alibaba are defined by the promise of convenience and a frictionless path to purchase, but this efficiency has come at the expense of engagement.

With consumers tired of bland retail platforms and mindlessly acquiring goods, our 2019 macrotrend Community Commerce explored how e-commerce is undergoing a paradigm shift. Consumers are moving away from these big-box retailers in search of new forms of micro-commerce that prioritise authentic exchanges between brands and people.

‘The problem is that we, as human beings, don’t merely shop to acquire products – not all the time anyway. We also shop to discover new things, to socialise with friends and to entertain ourselves,’ says Doug Stephens, founder and president of consultancy Retail Prophet.

As consumers define new ways to access and exchange products, Community Commerce will continue to gain momentum in 2020 with a focus on more interactive and community-orientated shopping practices. Our recent microtrend Peer Platforms signals how consumers are driving the conversation around brands in their own communities, and to survive the next decade, brands will have to listen.

The Big Idea: Circular Store Design

While consumers continue to expect brands to produce products that are sustainable and socially conscious, this year saw retailers work to ensure that their physical stores are aligned with such values.

Circular Store Design reveals not only how stores' physical design and interior materials are being carefully re-considered, but the store operations too – in particular, how brands can reduce their energy use.

Cult luxury brand Ganni demonstrated its commitment to circular strategies in the fit-out of its newly opened London boutique. Designed in collaboration with Stamuli Architects, the Soho store features podiums and chests of drawers made from recycled plastic waste, rag rugs fashioned from excess Ganni fabrics, and products displayed in trays made from recycled plastic.

Ikea has taken this a step further and ensured that the physical infrastructure of its Greenwich store is built on circular practices. The BREEAM-awarded space includes solar roof panels to generate its own electricity, geothermal heating that draws heat from the ground, and rainwater harvesting which, alongside low water-use fittings, aims to reduce the store’s water consumption by 50%.

Gabriela Hearst store designed by Foster + Partners, London

The Campaign: The New Order by Selfridges

The New Order by Selfridges

Acknowledging that the digital revolution is increasingly affecting fashion, retail and brand communications, British retailer Selfridges’ The New Order campaign was launched in July designed to showcase how the digital and physical worlds are colliding.

Throughout 2019, the store invited a series of global digital creatives to envisage what commerce will look like in the near future. Campaign activations included an augmented reality (AR) artwork in the atrium by artist Jon Emmony, branded campaigns by Ines Alpha, and digitally rendered products that allowed shoppers to buy items directly from the department store’s window.

Reiterating the sentiment of our Immaterial Fashion macrotrend, Emma Kidd, Selfridges' director of creative direction, notes that ‘the digital realm has shifted the limits of fashion – we’re no longer constrained by what is humanly or materially possible. Our new digital tools are causing a revolution in what fashion looks like, and what it can do for us'.

The Interview: Aaron Levant on culture-powered video commerce


We profiled live commerce app NTWRK in February, and CEO Aaron Levant explained how the mobile only platform combines storytelling, hype and purchasing ability to create a culture-powered retail space.

On a weekly basis, the NTWRK app drops exclusive products via live content presented by a well-known personality, ranging from major sports stars to actors and designers. With a finite time window of 15 to 20 minutes, users must tune in and watch the drops live in order to buy that product. After that, it’s gone for ever.

Looking ahead to 2020, the NTWRK priority is to scale up the business beyond only weekly drops and provide meaningful content to its viewers. Inspired by the way in which Asian markets digest media and commerce, the West's appetite for the NTWRK app and retailtainment as a whole is growing. ‘This type of thing is coming to America fast and NTWRK is attempting to lead the way with its combination of content and commerce’, notes Levant. ‘A lot of content companies want to move into commerce and a lot of retail companies want to get into content. What NTWRK is born from, and made of, is a true combination of these things.’

The Space: Obsess

Obsess Obsess

Despite retailers continuing to integrate new digital and sustainable practices into their bricks-and-mortar stores throughout 2019, it was the digital retail realm that evolved most significantly over the past year.

Obsess is a virtual retail space that is re-inventing online product discovery and the e-commerce experience. Rendered in CGI, a collection of virtual stores provides an immersive and contextual 360-degree shopping experience showcasing a cross-sector of products. Shoppers can interact with 3D replicas of items for sale and shop directly through the platform.

In our recent interview with Obsess founder Neha Singh, she emphasised that these new virtual spaces are not designed to replace physical brand touchpoints, but to complement them, and most importantly, enhance online shopping. ‘One of the things we do is to create experiences virtually, but we can also take physical stores and make them shoppable online. That enables us to take the physical assets and increase the ROI because now, if you make your store shoppable and discoverable online, it’s accessible to a much wider audience.’

Download the Future Forecast 2020 report

Now that you know what shaped 2019, discover what’s on the horizon. Download our Future Forecast 2020 report comprising 50 new behavioural patterns across 10 key consumer sectors, expert opinion pieces and interviews with global innovators.

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