3 things to know about consumers in 2019

March 20, 2019

In retail, evolution doesn’t stop. As consumer behavior shifts and changes with every new technological advancement or cultural shift, retailers must rise to meet new demands. And that means keeping a disciplined focus on the customer. At NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, Mark Mathews, NRF’s vice president of research and development, Jill Standish, senior managing director and global head of retail at Accenture, and Jay Sole, executive director of UBS Securities LLC, discussed what the retail landscape looks like in 2019 and how retailers are meeting consumer needs. Coming off the holiday season, consumers are in a good place and ready to shop. Here are three ways smart retailers are striving to not just meet, but exceed customer expectations.

Embrace investments that deliver value behind the scenes

As the lines between physical and digital continue to blur, retailers are beginning to embrace intelligent automation — a new combination of technology in which automation is driven by artificial intelligence. The panelists noted how retailers like Zulily understand these investments help them keep up with consumer demand; Zulily uses intelligent automation to help manage the more than 9,000 new SKUs it introduces on a daily basis.

Shoppers may be unaware of these behind-the-scenes improvements, but retailers understand these investments will help ensure they’re meeting consumer demands. According to a global study by NRF and IBM, retail and consumer product companies are poised to enter a new era of intelligent automation over the next few years.



In the highly competitive retail sector, it’s not just about meeting customer expectations but standing out. Chasing that goal is what will continue to fuel innovation in 2019. Two key areas of focus have emerged: delivering on fulfillment needs and understanding shopper values.

Deliver on fulfillment needs

“What consumers are looking for are options that make their interactions quick and painless.”

Jay Sole, UBS Securities LLC.

Retailers are investing in and offering more fulfillment options than ever, and consumers are jumping on board. One of the most popular offerings, buy online, pick up in store (known as “BOPIS” to those in the industry), continues to gain awareness, adoption and satisfaction. Mathews cited NRF’s Winter 2018/2019 Consumer View, which found that BOPIS played an integral role in the customer experience in 2018 and will continue to do so in the upcoming year. Convenience today isn’t just about a seamless transaction experience — it’s about getting the products customers want easily. As Sole elaborated, “What consumers are looking for are options that make their interactions quick and painless.”



Reflect consumers’ values

Mathews and Standish discussed how awareness and education are key for shoppers. Many retailers are embracing transparency in their business operations, from where products are sourced to what their costs are, giving consumers the opportunity to make educated choices.

Mathews pointed to data from NRF’s Consumer View that found the majority of consumers say they sometimes or always research a retailer’s views on topics that matter most to them. And what’s more, over a quarter (28%) said they would stop shopping at one of their favorite brands if they found its values contradict their own beliefs. Similarly, Standish pointed to research showing consumers will spend more with a brand that’s in line with their values.

We’re in an age of retail where the power is in the consumer’s hands. A clear understanding of how consumers are behaving and what they desire should be the guiding star for any retailer’s strategy, helping retail leaders continue to innovate and give shoppers what they’re looking for — perhaps even before shoppers know they want it.

Read next

2023 holiday shopping outlook
How consumers will be spending and shopping this holiday season.
Read more
Failure, fun and a fire drill: Insights from NRF Nexus strategists
Kate Ancketill, Pascal Finette and Jason ‘Retailgeek’ Goldberg on retail trends and best practices.
Read more
Generation Alpha is already impacting back-to-class shopping
Retail Gets Real Episode 313: GfK’s Rachel Bonsignore on what’s driving back-to-school shopping this season.
Read more