To coincide with the kick-off conference for the 2017 edition of Paris Retail Week on 15 May, the Havas Paris Shopper Observer* reviewed the latest trends sweeping the retail industry. The survey reveals two major elements applicable to the B2B market: brand engagement with social issues and the combination of human factors and artificial intelligence to improve customer relationships.
A hybrid digital-physical model
The retail industry is entering a new era. Leading e-retailer Amazon is continually changing its game plan to satisfy its customers. The giant is also now expanding its business model in local physical stores. In contrast, Carrefour and Walmart are busy pursuing their digital transformation strategy and quickly developing value-added e-commerce solutions. Major retailers are changing and laying the foundations for a new business model featuring an intricate blend of digital and physical.
As you will have guessed, this trend does not go hand-in-hand with the advent of a fully digital, automated and virtual retail model. On the contrary, this move towards digitisation is rekindling expectations for a more human-oriented form of retail that is capable of building trust and eliciting a positive response from consumers.
79% of French people believe that brands have a duty to act in the interest of society
Brands are now looking beyond profits and becoming increasingly socially engaged and active campaigners. This trend is apparent in the changing stance of many brands, which are going beyond CSR to take a much more prominent role in public issues. They have no qualms about showing their own emotions, even if it means alienating part of the population.
These clear stances mirror consumers' expectations. 64% believe that it is a good thing for companies to defend their values and bring about change for society.
72% of French people are worried about seeing the retail industry dehumanised by digital technologies and artificial intelligence
Nearly three quarters of French people are not ready for a fully automated relationship with brands. There is no cause for concern, since advances in digital technologies are helping to humanise the retail sector. A new playground is taking shape: recent and breakneck advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are enabling brands to identify and understand consumers' emotions and thereby interact more effectively with their customers and satisfy their needs. This is a good point for 66% of respondents who would like companies to spontaneously offer them products matching their tastes.
Chatbots and new conversation-based assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Emotient, which analyse faces and which could be integrated into Siri, symbolise these capacities.
Consumers' behaviour, values and priorities are affected by disruptive technologies and changes in society. The retail industry is continually reinventing itself in alignment with consumers' expectations. In this radically changing retail sector, driven by artificial intelligence and social engagement, the essential nevertheless remains: the human aspect and emotions.
* OpinionWay survey for Havas Paris / Paris Retail Week – April 2017