4 steps to predicting retail trends

Tips from WGSN’s Andrea Bell

Consumers aren’t just purchasing items anymore. They’re spending money on experiences and companies that reflect their personal lifestyles and values. They want relationships, they want authenticity — and they’re disrupting retail as we know it. Understanding who the customer is and what they want is crucial.

As head of WGSN Insight, Andrea Bell works with some of the world’s biggest brands to identify and analyze trends and how they will affect consumer behavior. Ahead of her appearance at NRFtech 2019, Bell offers insights on finding the next big thing.

What goes into trend forecasting? What do you wish more people understood about your job?

People aren’t just buying products anymore — they are buying people and relationships. More often than not, purchase decisions are led by shared values and lifestyles, not simply aesthetics.

Andrea Bell, WGSN Insight

Despite the notion that once a year, we sit in a room and pluck colors or retail trends based on opinion, trend and consumer forecasting is a balance of data (the quantitative research) and behavioral analysis (our qualitative method).

When you hear the word ‘data’ people often think ‘numbers,’ but research of every kind forms data points — it’s how you put it all together that’s important. What has changed and evolved are the numerical data points which we’re able to use within our forecasting to support, challenge and enhance the qualitative research of our trend forecasters.

The job of a forecaster is to filter the impact of consumer behavior shifts and inform our clients what products or experiences consumers will want as a consequence.

How can retailers better predict trends?

My advice for readers on how to think about predicting trends is Read+Observe+Listen+Share.

  • Read as much as possible and break out of your filter bubble. We’re reading everything from economic forecasts to mental health reports from the National Health Service to teenage manifestos and Instagram stories.
  • Observation is essential. If you’re constantly glued to your phone, you’re not looking at the wider shifts around you. What are people’s needs? How are they communicating? What advertisement did they stare at for a bit longer than normal?
  • Listen. Speak to your shoppers! We hold focus groups, do vox pops [person-on-the-street interviews] and are always asking questions and listening to everyone from Alphas to Boomers. Listening is an essential forecasting tool: Finding the consumer problem allows us to create a solution.
  • Share. One of our greatest tools is our global workforce. We have WGSN employees in nearly all countries and this is really key for us to challenge our own impact bias and view the world from a regional lens.
From the source

Hear more from Andrea Bell at NRFtech 2019.

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We have a ‘glocal’ approach (global movements distilled into regional adaption) and this is driven by sharing knowledge and insights. Whether it’s tagging people on an Instagram post, sending a white paper through our company portal or even a street shot to an internal What’sApp group — we are cultural hunters and gathers.

This workforce mentality of ‘no silos’ has to come from the top down: Our managing director, Carla Buzasi, is a great example. She was recently in Shanghai and sent a plethora of pictures of new retail spaces before she jumped on the plane. And I can’t begin to tell you how many articles and white papers she sends us for research! I really think sharing knowledge should be a KPI.

WGSN predicted the rise of athleisure as far back as 2007 — what do you see coming in the next few years? Are new consumer groups emerging as a result of these trends?

This is always the golden question — the rise of re-commerce will continue to challenge traditional retail, especially as the technology streamlines. There are current platforms where anyone can open a store in as little as four minutes.

U.S. Gen Z shoppers have grown up in an intangible world, so the need to physically own something is completely different. As we urbanize, physical space is a challenge — people have to absolutely love the product to make room for it. And of course, sustainability continues to be a rising priority, as people are increasingly aware of environmental issues.

You’ve spoken about how millennials and Generation Z are famous for demanding authenticity from brands, who are in turn scrambling to demonstrate their worthiness. How do consumers measure authenticity? What are they really looking for?

Whether it’s buycotting or boycotting a product, people are voting with their dollars and spending with their values. What is going to give the shopper an emotional stake in your brand? Where brands seem to be missing the mark is marketing ploys — people understand the difference between a bandwagon campaign or a real commitment to a cause and/or social issue.

‘Wealth care’ (a retailers’ long term commitment to an issue/community/charity) will continue to be a consumer priority and impact their spending. For WGSN, that’s why consumer roadmaps are crucial. Knowing your consumer and what they value will create authenticity naturally. Retailers can’t expect to win with their shoppers if they don’t know who they are.

Don’t miss Bell at NRFtech, May 19-21, in San Francisco, where Bell will discuss the future consumer and global sentiments that will disrupt consumer behavior and shopping habits.

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