Highwire’s Retail Trends and Predictions for 2020

At Highwire, we work with startups and tech companies that power the retail industry from end-to-end, and the media who cover all things in this space. This puts us in a unique position, with our fingers on the pulse of everything happening in the industry. 

While we don’t have a crystal ball to see the future for certain, we can predict what the coming year will bring based on the research and trends we’re seeing. So, what can you expect for digital commerce in 2020? 

Here are our top four predictions:

  1. The Return Revolution Picks Up Steam.

When holiday shopping is all said and done, the return season follows, bringing more anxiety than joy to the industry. Approximately 11% of goods are returned, and when it comes to e-commerce, that number can easily reach 30%. An Optoro study found that $390 billion worth of merchandise is returned in the US each year, resulting in 5 billion pounds of waste sent to landfills.

However, the retail industry is finally fighting back against the cost and burden of the return process with new approaches that save time, frustration, and the environment. From Amazon’s Returnless Refunds to independent retailers’ Happy Returns, alternatives help retailers save on the cost of shipping and processing returns, while consumers benefit from convenience and choice. We’ll see these approaches increase in 2020, including more options for retailers to resale or donate returned inventory, eliminating waste and improving their financial recovery.

  1. Recommerce is Hot and Getting Hotter.

Three in five Americans (61%) say they’re comfortable receiving a second-hand item as a gift. Research from online store ThredUp and retail analytics firm Global Data show the U.S. secondhand apparel market was worth $24 billion in 2018 and is likely to reach $41 billion by 2022. Savvy shoppers who want the benefits of the latest fashions while desiring more sustainability and affordability are fueling the trend.

With the resale market on the rise, brands need to do more than just get products out quickly. Increasingly important is the quality and design that can last for years to come. Look for more brands to expand into rentals and find other creative ways to embrace the resale market.

  1. Sustainability is In, and Here to Stay.

 Retail is greener than ever these days and this look is here to stay. Coffee shops filling only reusable cups, direct to consumer brands preaching transparency and ethics in how they source and sell goods, plastic bag bans, and a reduction in cardboard: these are all indicators of retail’s sustainable future. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability values when researching and buying products.

As the World Economic Forum affirms businesses’ purpose to include broader societal concerns, retailers are making changes to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce environmental impact, as well as meet eco-conscious consumers’ demands. According to Business of Fashion’s 2018 State of Fashion research, 66% of millennials worldwide are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. The voices of climate advocates are growing louder, and in the years ahead, we’ll see even more changes towards creating a sustainable supply chain for retail. 

  1. Stores are Back in Fashion.

We’ve seen a tsunami of brick-and-mortar retail closures across America, but from the ashes of an old retail model, a new wave of stores will rise. Look for more small brick-and-mortar stores to open in 2020 as mobile pickup centers rise to meet the expectations of the on-demand shopper. Mobile-only pickup stores will be a haven for the brand loyalist while traditional brick-and-mortar stores will get experimental and serve as a destination to drive new customers. 

Of course, the customer experience will become more important than ever, with shopping experiences that can’t be had online. Experiential retail will emphasize experiences that are shareable on social media, offering more than just products. Look for stores to emphasize their unique offerings through experiences that immerse consumers in their brand culture.

As we fill our carts this holiday season and think ahead to commerce in 2020, we’d love to know your predictions for the coming year. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Attending NRF’s Big Show in January? We’d love to meet you! Drop a line to commerce@highwirepr.com and we can find a time to connect.

By: Tricia Nugent-Dawal and Stephanie Burke

What Happened at This Year’s Money 20/20

For fintech and payments companies of all sizes, Money 20/20 is a jackpot for networking and discussions on how technology will impact the future of money. Over the past year, we’ve observed new fintech companies break into the market, VCs flock to fund the next big idea and companies expanding to become a one-stop-shop for consumers and businesses. 

This year’s show trends were just as exciting. What happens in Las Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Las Vegas. Here’s what we saw and learned at this year’s show.

News that had a hot streak

Uber Money: Announced during a keynote, Uber is breaking into the financial industry offering drivers instant payments through a new no-fee checking account and debit card. Uber’s newest venture into finance is the latest venture of a startup venturing into territories previously held by traditional banks.

Amazon and Payments: No doubt with Amazon’s continued dominance in commerce that they’d make a splash by jumping into payments. At a keynote, Amazon announced a simple new Alexa tool, paying utility bills by voice.

BlueVine Business Banking: As startups continue to fill in the gaps where traditional banking falls short for consumers, BlueVine (a Highwire client) announced a monthly fee-free checking account service designed for small businesses – filling the gap left by traditional banks leaving most SMBs to use consumer accounts and pay $400+ in fees. 

What’s Trending

This year’s official #Money2020USA Twitter hashtag saw more than 24 million potential impressions from more than 1,200 contributors during the span of the show. During the span of the show, there was an average of 668 tweets per day with the hashtag. Looking at this year’s trends on Twitter, payments came away as the clear topic of interest. Just behind payments, AI was another buzzword top of mind during the show. Meanwhile, blockchain, cashless and cryptocurrency fell short on capturing Twitter’s attention.

20/20 Planning Tips

With the size and magnitude of Money 20/20, breaking through the noise to reach customers, reporters, potential partners and investors can prove to be challenging. As we enter planning for next year, consider standing out with digital activations. Having an always-on social strategy with video, polls and Q&As is a strong way to cut through the noise.

Using the right hashtags is key to reach a broader audience. For example, using #Money2020 saw nearly a third of the impressions as the official #Money2020USA tag saw, even with about half the number of tweets and contributors.

At this year’s show, Highwire PR had five clients in attendance. With our roots in journalism and deep experience in fintech, learn how we can elevate your story through traditional and digital communication campaigns. Reach out to our payments/fintech lead, Kim Paone, or shoot us a note at hi@highwirepr.com to learn more.

Let’s Talk about Techlash: Learnings on Bridging the Digital Disconnect from Advertising Week NYC

Advertising Week NYC has come and gone, and while the smell of popcorn has finally faded, some of the annual event’s biggest themes will be lingering for quite some time. Trust in tech was unsurprisingly a focal point, as the advertising industry continues to reel from negative headlines around consumer data and privacy, and braces itself for CCPA and other impending regulations. 

With that in mind, we listened in on a panel that spotlights new research from American Marketing Association (AMA) New York into the challenges presented by a growing resistance to technology and how marketers can work to address them. Called “Techlash is Here,” the conversation shined a light onto the disconnect between consumers’ privacy concerns and brands’ desire to reach their audiences with as much personalization as possible. Here are a few key takeaways from the study and dialogue — and what that means for tech.

Tackling techlash with transparency

Technology is all around us, playing a part in nearly everything we as consumers do. But in the U.S., many consumers are pushing back on tech’s ubiquity. AMA New York’s research found that in the next three years, many Americans will reduce their usage of social media and games. Facebook and Instagram use will level off by 2022, and Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn use is expected to decline. In spite of this, advertisers plan to invest even more into these channels. 

There’s a clear misunderstanding between marketers and consumers about the benefits and role of social platforms. Where marketers see opportunity, many consumers today see anxiety and risk. For marketers and advertisers to see a return on their social media investments, they will need to regain the trust of their audiences. They need to make a commitment to transparency in how, where and when they collect and use data, and put more control in consumers’ hands to monitor what they share. GDPR marked a shift in the regulatory tides, and a sea change is coming starting with CCPA in January. Marketers need to prepare themselves and have consumer sentiment on their side if they’re going to survive the storm. 

Tech skeptics on the rise

As anxiety about social media grows, so do wariness and skepticism around emerging technologies. More than 80 percent of Americans fear that fake accounts, falsehoods, hackers and bots will mislead consumers. No longer willing to blindly accept new technology for its promised benefits, consumers are boldly questioning what tech really offers and whether it might have damaging effects. Panelists called out smart speakers in particular as an innovation that U.S. consumers are growing resistant to, despite the utility of an always-on assistant. 

For technology companies to successfully deliver their future developments, they too will need to question their impact on the individuals they’re designed for. “There’s a need for people to come from humanities to question what is being built by companies like the one I work for, and ask how, if this gets into the wrong hands, will it be used,” said panelist Geoffrey Colon, Head of Brand Studio at Microsoft Advertising. “Someone needs to figure this out and say ‘We’re not about revenue. We’re about trust, privacy and consumer choice.’” 

Innovate with purpose

Consumer fears about the dangers and consequences of technology have been legitimized by major data leaks, hacks and scandals, but many marketers still fail to take them seriously — to their own detriment. Brands have an uphill battle to climb to convince users of their technology’s value, but it’s not an impossible task. 

Brands and tech companies need to put the customer front and center of their innovation efforts — and not just talk the talk — as they design and develop new tools. Innovation cannot just happen for innovation’s sake. It should serve a bigger purpose and be steered with a positive end goal in mind. As Viant CMO Jon Schulz aptly put it, “There’s a lot of innovation, but where is the consumer benefit?” 

This new era of techlash requires brands to think more critically about the purpose and benefits of technology. Will they step up to the challenge and regain consumers’ trust? Tell us what you think in the comments below.