With just a few weeks left in the second decade of this century, I decided to reach out to a very select group of leaders in our field to find out what they’re thinking about the future of our industry.  I’m pleased to share the first response with you today, from editor-in-chief of Gifts & Decorative Accessories Lenise Willis.  Lenise is well versed in looking both back and forward – the photo above shows her (in the center) discussing product trends from the last century with Anne-Marie Earl, right, and Lauren Froneberger, left, as the editorial team prepared for the 100th anniversary issue of Gifts & Decorative Accessories in 2017.  

Lenise is also a Millennial, which means she’s able to offer some personal insights into the shopping habits of this important demographic. But as she mentions, she’s blessed to have many seasoned mentors and a strategic insights team who help her to see the big picture.

Here is is her insightful look to the future:

We are about to enter a new decade, and there is no doubt that the current one has brought drastic changes to retailing.  What do you think may happen in the 2020s?

I’ve had the pleasure of getting a behind-the-scenes look at the gift industry for almost three years now and it’s been an exciting time, for sure. During my introduction to the industry, Amazon was the biggest threat and what everyone was still talking about. Now it’s faire.com and other wholesale ordering platforms. Basically, the digital age has caused a lot of stress and concern for the independent gift industry.  

But truthfully, I think in the next decade we will see a big turning point — with technology and the web giving advantages to independent retailers. Just look at Toys R Us and Payless ShoeSource — two big businesses who have shut down during the age of Amazon. But it’s actually helped gift shops, who could fill the void, but with a personal touch. I think for the 2020s, big-box stores will still be in trouble because they offer a similar experience to online shopping — impersonal, not unique — but without the convenience. But I think gift boutiques will be the answer that many consumers — oversaturated with impersonal experiences — will be seeking.

Just this year, we wrote about a retailer who offers ear piercing in her store and it’s become a town tradition! Even families that have moved away, come back to the boutique when a daughter comes of age, to get her ears pierced at the same place her mother did. Personal experiences and connections will be the main focus for the next decade, because consumers won’t only desire them, but need them.

We don’t pass on things we found on the internet; we pass on things we’ve personally experienced. Because that is what we value most. 

Please list three things you think will help independent retailers succeed in the coming decade.

1.  First, I think it’s impossible to ignore the need for an online presence, simply because that is how consumers do the majority of their research. You don’t necessarily have to offer online ordering, but you should have a website and at least two social channels that tell your story and allow consumers to engage with you. If you make them feel like a kindred spirit before they’ve even walked through your door, you’ll have a loyal customer for years to come. It also makes you more trustworthy. Even I don’t trust any business that doesn’t have a website (or a well-maintained one) and that isn’t on at least one social channel.

2.  Along those same lines, storeowners also can’t ignore the advances of payment technology. Mobile payments are steadily increasing and storeowners should look at how they can bring the convenient method to their store. Consumers already rarely carry cash, favoring credit or debit cards, but in the next decade they may even abandon their plastic. Mobile payments aren’t just more convenient — with fewer things to carry — but they can be viewed as more secure with encryption, too.

3.  Finally, I know we’ve discussed the need for in-store experiences and we’ve long said it’ll be the ‘saving grace’ for brick-and-mortar retail, but it’s true. Storeowners will have to upkeep engaging in-store events and a positive, personal shopping experience if they want customers to ‘inconvenience’ themselves by getting in a car and going to their store in person. Give them a better reason to come into your store other than to spend their money. Consumers now are already isolated enough, so I can only imagine what their social state will become in the next decade. People are pretty lonely these days. There are already apps out there to help people find friends and meet up for a social activity; you can be a part of the solution, too, by offering a valuable, personal experience and social atmosphere. I think the types of experiences will evolve as well. Storeowners won’t just offer them, but sell them, too. I mean what’s better than gifting someone a massage gift card? Giving them a more personal basket with a beautiful Rosy Rings soap bar and a massage gift card. I think social influencers, too, will play a big part in in-store experiences, and successful retailers will find a way to use these local celebrities to draw more attention to their store. After all, consumers trust their peers and their endorsements and reviews before any marketing speak.

I look forward to bringing you the insights of other industry leaders in the future – feel free to nominate someone you’d like to hear from by contacting me at specialtyshopretailing@gmail.com.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder