Every year, executive teams put their heads together to assess the trends on tap for the year and strategize around what’s hot air and what’s likely to impact the business. We’ve taken a look into our crystal ball of data across sectors and have landed on the below seven items that we think will have the biggest influence in 2018.
1. Goodbye focus groups. Hello data. Focus groups used to be heavily relied upon for insights into consumer preferences and attitudes. This outdated means of testing products and services with consumers is undergoing an evolution thanks to PIM and social media insights. Retailers can now just analyze which products or pages their consumers spend time on, e.g. were they looking at images or tech specs? Just by looking at that data, we can learn so much. Now, instead of going first to the focus group, companies can utilize them further down the process to supplement or complement the data they’ve accumulated and assessed. Focus groups will evolve to be more into finding insights to the “what if” areas of new product and industry sectors, where they may enhance data.
2. Omnichannel gives way to Agile Commerce. In the new year, we’ll see retailers move from seeing omnichannel in a silo to understanding it as an extension of distribution. The first step to becoming agile starts with retailers developing a deep understanding of consumers’ behaviors and shopping patterns with the data at hand. Second, and only once that’s understood, retailers must then intersect these consumers at their level of interest. We first saw this on a massive scale with Facebook, where I see recommendations based on my interests. The fact is, the retailer that will survive the next few years has an understanding that their consumers are very digital, very connected, and need to be intersected where their interests are. From there, the challenge is making the customer experience effortless. Do they want to pick up in-store? Then make that as seamless and effortless as possible.
3. CTOs get redefined. As more businesses move to various technologies, the reality is that many will recognize that technology needs to be embedded within each function and not siloed. This is the backbone to being agile. Today’s businesses just create new roles and titles with each new technology that reaches peak permeation. You can find evidence here with the creation of the chief data officer and the chief social officer. Take a look at the generation that’s just now entering the workforce. These kids grew up with technology as a part of their lives. It’s this group who will shake up our existing c-suite structure to develop roles that combine both business and technology savviness so that CTOs become more about transformation than technology.
4. AI evolves to show its work. Listen, AI and automation may sound like a whole lot of hype, but the technology takes subjectivity out of the equation and makes inevitably better decisions. It’s here to stay. It does need to mature, however, and there’s tremendous wind behind the sails to help it get there in the next year. The problem isn’t so much whether to leverage and integrate AI – we’ll save that for another day – the problem that we’ll need to solve in 2018 and beyond is understanding how it got to a certain decision. Take Tesla and its “summon” function, for example. Let’s say the first five times someone may use it, it works flawlessly. But, on the sixth attempt, it almost crashes. Now, what made that decision? Was it parked too far from the garage? Has the concrete shifted? It’s a guessing game to the user and the business.
5. Personalization meets scale. You need to have customization to attract and retain the customer, but now executives are forced to think of scaling this. A couple hundred years ago, it was all about high customization, low volume. Then, with the industrial revolution, the pendulum swung to high volume, low customization. Then the Technological Revolution came along and suddenly there’s an explosion of customer data. But what’s the point of knowing your customer so well if you can’t provide a customized product? So the fundamental problem becomes how do you manage large scale while also delivering a high degree of personalization? The answers lies in that data.
6. Retailers break out of the aisle maze. We all know that store layout are the way they are thanks to countless research that enables higher sales. Take milk, for example. It’s always located at the back furthermost corner of the store because it’s a staple and will undoubtedly be on a shopping list, but the majority of items shoppers pass to get there probably are not. Trouble is, when ecommerce came about, retailers designed their online stores with a similar aisle mentality. But if you go to a retailer’s online store, there is no first or second floor and no aisle. You know what you want and how to search for it and you’re not going to search based on the way the retailer has ordered the product. That way of classifying and segmenting products doesn’t work in a digital world. 2018 is the year that smart retailers realize that their online storefront deserves this approach to endless and dynamic design.
7. Data security bolsters cloud business. From Deloitte to Equifax, security breaches are no longer a question of “if” but “when” – preparing for this should be a major focus for all companies. That said, this won’t impact companies’ use of data throughout their business, just the way in which it’s managed and secured. 2018 will see a whole new level of scrutiny into data security –how it’s processed, stored, and accessed. Whether data is in transit or at rest, it needs to be secured. Expect the impact of these hacks to trickle down further with a short-term impact of concern over cloud-based management and the need to offload security trust onto a massive player like Amazon or Azure.
Regardless of industry, we’re seeing that the best way to get past the competition is to harness and leverage the data at your fingertips. Failure to do so is the equivalent of burying your head in the sand.