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6 consumer trends retailers can expect for rest of 2024 and beyond

By Jackie Mallon


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Retail |Interview

Aptos trend presentation introduction image Credits: Aptos

As 2024 unfolds, retailers have shifted from recessionary expectations to a more hopeful outlook. However, there is a gap between consumers' expectations and retailers' current capabilities and as stores evolve they must place increased focus on one-to-one connection and experiential aspects. Nikki Baird, VP Strategy and Product at retail tech provider Aptos, walked us through some of the big takeaways from the recent Aptos Engage summit during which she presented the latest trends to a select gathering of retailers and brands.

Work from home or return to office

So far, 2024 has been like a part two of 2023, but as the year progresses, the above question looms large for retailers. The longer consumers resist returning to the office, the more structural implications there are as retailers reconsider downtown locations, instead opening stores in the suburbs, often in smaller spaces, to reach consumers where they live as opposed to in highly populated professional urban hubs.

The elevated role of the sales associate in contemporary retail Credits: Aptos

All eyes on India

Aptos serves brands that open stores globally and Baird highlights an important shift that could redirect global retail trends. China, no longer seen as a big growth driver due to its weak economy and low spending (it’s still unclear whether that’s down to waning interest in Western brands or true economic hardship) has been replaced by a focus on India. The number of stores that could be opened or amount of consumers that could be reached in this new target territory will only be clear at the beginning of 2025, when full year fiscal results are posted. And while retailers can look forward to a more stable supply chain, with a caveat regarding the Red Sea, post-pandemic disruptions have already forced workarounds with many companies shifting their manufacturing to Southeast Asia and out of China.

Retail trends that can backfire on brands

Wellness, which has been a trend since the pandemic, incorporating mental, physical, emotional, proactive and preventative health, is uppermost with consumers to the point that retailers, while not medical experts, and never having had to traditionally equip themselves for this role, are expected to participate in delivering this wellbeing. Another holdover from the pandemic, the “Less is more,” anti-consumerist, trend also looms large. Customers are inclined to consume less and they expect retailers to help them achieve that, a concept somewhat antithetical to retail. So while a focus on personalization can increase short term loyalty and sales, it has the potential to backfire if it leads the consumer into a space of unconscious consumption. Retailers that make it too easy to buy risk harming their reputation with consumers.

Embrace the mess

Retailers that are perceived to be jacking up their prices while their CEO collects huge bonuses and stock payouts are no longer tolerated by consumers and Baird says this even goes some way towards explaining the current high theft rate in stores. Consumers feel justified in wanting their share. Manifesting optimism, the 2023 trend of believing that things will get better despite the dispiriting state of the world, has disappeared. Instead, the current movement is to embrace the mess in a manner that echoes a 12-step program, understanding that we can't move forward until we’ve acknowledged our present circumstances. Turning away from Instagram’s curated-to-death perfection, consumers are also rejecting traditional life stages, because they can't afford them: High school graduation, college, marriage, buying a house or car, having kids, all milestones that retailers used as methods to target customers are less relevant or representative of a demographic. Behavioral segmentation is the new reality.

The myriad functions of brick and mortar store Credits: Aptos

Evolution of the modern store

The store’s role in customer acquisition is more vital than ever and a customer acquired in store is infinitely more profitable and loyal to a brand than a customer acquired online. Retailers are responding by investing in mobile technology, getting employees out from behind the cash wrap, putting them on the sales floor, furnishing them with a full knowledge at their fingertips of product in store with inventory that is elsewhere. Retailers that would previously not have been categorized as event driven retailers, are now interested in pop up events to engage customers. Gen Z and Alpha have greatly contributed to the revival of brick and mortar, and problem solving is important to them. Customer service must now act almost like a call center that drives these consumers into the store for pick-up or returns, so that if an item didn’t satisfy, then brands have the opportunity to turn the experience into a positive one.

The mobile shopping experience

Retailers work hard to get customers through the door but an interesting development that Baird notes, and an evolution of the pandemic phenomenon of curbside pick-up, is retailers' ability to serve consumers outside the store, even waiting in line. Sneakers retailers who schedule product drops that usually result in lines around the block benefit from this technology. Taking a mobile device into an area of high traffic, even into the parking lot to help customers get on their way without the need for them to wait in line ties back to bringing retail to where customers are. On a larger scale, Boot Barn’s presence at rodeos and the New Balance pop-up for the New York City Marathon are successful examples of setting up sales events that account for an enormous amount of volume with engaged consumers, then packing the operation up and removing all trace of it.

Consumer behaviour
Consumer Trends