The rise of trendspotting: are you ready for 2016?

Date: 15-01-2016

Tagged as: ArticleGameplanInnovationTechnologyDigital


The digital age might make the world seem smaller – but it also means that keeping pace with change is more complicated than ever, says Cate Trotter, founder of Insider Trends. So how can businesses stay abreast of emerging trends – and what’s on the cards in the retail space in 2016?

Cate Trotter is the founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a London-based trendspotting consultancy with particular expertise in the retail sector.

Cate Trotter 210


Trends are forces that can naturally propel a business forward. Think of it like flying – if your ambition is to take to the air, you can build an expensive and complicated Boeing 747, but you can also fly in a simple glider if you understand air currents and use them to your advantage. Trendspotting is like gliding on an air current – it helps your business fly for a lot less investment.

Trendspotting itself is a rising trend. Technology and connectivity open up new areas of interest, new sources of data and new ways to process it – but it also makes the world a complicated place, subject to fast-paced change. Businesses focused on trendspotting are more likely to take advantage of the opportunities that environment brings, and less likely to be at risk from the threats – from inefficient investment strategies to being left standing by more dynamic competitors.

How to spot trends

Trends, by nature, are in constant flux. Companies need to monitor them, not just at the beginning of a year or a new season, but throughout. It needn’t be an arduous task – with a few simple steps you can start to sharpen your skills:

  • Commit time to trendspotting. It sounds obvious, but is often overlooked.
  • Immerse yourself. Engage the people and places at the cutting edge. You’ll get a completely different perspective on what’s new first hand than you will from the media.
  • Be social. Keep an eye on channels like Twitter, where new ideas bubble up all the time.
  • Go to industry events. Talk to everyone, not just the people you recognise.
  • Keep a note of everything. Seek out themes that link the interesting and unusual things you’ve been exposed to.
  • Experiment with the trend you’ve identified. Get it out in front of real customers and measure their response.

If you’re vigilant to even anecdotal evidence of emerging trends you can get ahead of the curve - the rewards of trendspotting can be game-changing.

The key trend of 2015

In the retail space, 2015 was the year of ‘omnichannel’, as the lines between purchasing channels continued to blur. Shoppers increasingly browse and buy through a blend of instore and online, and retailers are seeing opportunities to catch their attention across all channels. The impact is significant – a recent report1 showed that 63% of shoppers now use multiple channels when making purchases over £100, and more than 60% use at least two devices every day.

“In a digital age, user experience is king.”

That really demonstrates that omnichannel is now much more than a buzzword - it aligns tech and non-tech solutions to increase brand awareness and spend.

Argos is a classic example. Customers can check stock from their computer or via an app at home, reserve or pay for an item and collect it from store. It works for the customer by reducing frustration and increasing convenience. In a digital age, user experience is king - it’s a message that applies across sectors and industries.

Big news in 2016

As a result, the big trend of 2016 is likely to be in technology that really enhances the customer experience. That means understanding what the customer wants, as well as when and where they will use technology to get it – and, equally, when they won’t. The platforms we use to trade must reflect that understanding.

We’re seeing a shift away from gimmicky or pointless tech, to tech that adds value both to the experience and, ultimately, to the brand. But it’s not easy and there are lots of companies that get carried away by the possibilities of new innovations and lose their customer focus. It’s not just about what’s possible, it’s about what’s right.

Enhancing customer experience

We’re seeing this demonstrated with things like mobile payments, notably ApplePay, but also the way retailers are using Bluetooth ‘beacons’, which can be installed around stores or street space to interact with smartphones as people pass by. This is a growing trend, but there’s huge disparity in its application.

For me, a bad example is a store that uses the technology to bombard people with messages and offers as they walk through the space. All this adds to is the general noise and irritation.

“Trendspotting is like gliding on an air current – it helps your business fly for a lot less investment.”

Conversely, Australian firm Localz has trialled the use of beacons to identify when a customer enters a store, check if they have a click and collect order pending, let them know that the order is being prepared for them, and where they can collect it. This saves the customer time and creates a more positive experience - it shows smart thinking as well as smart tech.

Delivery to get smarter

Smarter delivery will also be big this year. Delivery is traditionally one of the biggest barriers to pure online shopping. In one survey, 90% of ecommerce users cited delivery as their biggest annoyance and two thirds of those who abandoned online purchases did so because delivery was either too slow, expensive or complicated.2

The industry has taken note, and as a result we’re seeing lots of innovation emerging in this space. Doddle, for example, operates dedicated collection and drop off points at train stations to help busy commuters, and their ‘Doddle Runners' can even come and collect items direct from you, wrap them and deliver them on for despatch. Initiatives like this will help break down that huge barrier to online shopping.

Adding value to data collection

2016 will also see a shift in brands demonstrating value to collect customer data. A good example of this is In their store, customers can browse with a tablet that provides enhanced product information on items they pass using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, and then save details of their preferences into a wishlist for later consideration.

We’re also seeing retailers such as John Lewis launching membership schemes that allow customers to keep digital copies of their in-store receipts and guarantees online. What both of these examples show is how smart retailers are offering convenient solutions for their customers and capturing data in return.

A tale of customer focus

So the big trends of 2016 will be very much customer-driven, to the extent that retailers in particular really must use technology in a smart way to boost their customer experience. Those that fail to keep pace with new technology, or who continue to use technology for technology’s sake, risk becoming a thing of the past.

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