Upcoming Retail Trends for 2020 and Beyond

By Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group


Over the last few years, the retail sector has been a hive of innovation, for example, throughout 2019, we saw the rise of intelligence through data science and robotic process automation (RPA) sweep the sector. Now, as integration methods improve and development quickens, these trends are likely to become more widely adopted by retailers. Inspired by this year’s National Retail Federation (NRF) and market observations, these three trends are set to have a major influence on the retail sector over the next year:


AI and RPA

Artificial intelligence (AI) and RPA are two technology areas that will continue to gather pace in the retail sector this year. This was demonstrated by almost every stand at NRF mentioning AI in their straplines and marketing. However, retailers are only really scratching the surface of what these technologies are capable of, and one thing that became apparent at NRF was that while everyone wants to use this technology, very few people actually know how. However, big names in retail have been trialling RPA for some time, using robots to deliver goods to customers, for instance.


As retailers get to grips with the capabilities of this technology, they’ll soon realise that RPA isn’t just about physical robots. In fact, it will mostly be about automating repetitive non-value-add processes behind the scenes, such as for testing or processing returns. As RPA technology becomes more advanced it will increasingly be adopted to fulfil more ‘human’ roles. Consequently, retailers will begin to upskill employees to allow them to move into more value-adding roles.



Many retailers will continue their efforts to offer consumers the personalised shopping experience so many have become accustomed to online. On the high street, this could be achieved by using apps which provide recommendations and give retail workers an insight into shopping profiles. By adopting technology that allows for this, retailers will have the ability to not only address the needs of the consumer and create more bespoke shopping experiences, but also to stand out from both high street and online competitors.


This personalisation will also spill over into the returns process. After all, something needs to be done to reduce the number of products coming back into businesses. In this scenario, hyper personalisation could see retailers taking personalised orders at scale. However, it’s possible this could spark a backlash as consumers rethink how much of their personal information they’re willing to share. The parameters of what is and is not acceptable to customers is new territory that must be carefully considered and understood. What works for one brand and demographic, could differ to other, more wary customer demographics.


Headless Commerce

The concept of ‘headless commerce’ is not yet pervasive, and while it may be some time before it gains real momentum, when it does, it’ll revolutionise the customer experience. Ultimately, it will present consumers with one singular back-end channel rather than numerous channels joined together, enabling them to buy anything, anywhere and at any time.


Over the coming months, we’ll be paying close attention to which retailers are implementing these innovations, the impact they have on their businesses and how these trends affect the high street at large.  Following a disappointing festive trading period for many, it’s clear that change and development is necessary for retailers to turn things around.

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