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2019 Retail Industry Outlook

Navigating disruption in retail

With consumers holding increasing power and the industry experiencing a year of transition, what will retailers need to do to position themselves for a successful 2019 and beyond?

A transitional year for retail

As retail collides with adjacent consumer-focused sectors, the industry continues to undergo constant disruption. However, amid the disruption, one thing remains consistent: Consumers are becoming more powerful, with expectations of having it all.

2018 left the industry with a lot to digest—a strong US economy, a record-breaking holiday season, mixed retail earnings, some high-profile bankruptcies, along with global trade and economic tensions.

Bolstered by a strong labor market, growth in disposable personal income, and elevated consumer confidence, 2018 experienced strong retail sales. But the economy may face some headwinds in 2019—making the year one of transition for retailers, who may need bold moves if they want to set themselves up for success in the future.

Download our full report to learn more about what lies ahead for retail.

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Six strategies to help retailers navigate industry disruption

To stay competitive, many retailers have shifted their investment strategies over the past 10-20 years. They’ve moved from growth via new stores to growth via big investments in all areas of the business—for example, launching new digital sales models, acquiring other businesses, or transforming their fulfillment processes. The cost to increase market share continues to grow, and many retailers find themselves in a precarious position as they try to figure out how to win battles on multiple fronts.

Where should retailers focus their strategies in 2019 to help move to the right side of the tipping point? Those who can synchronize their bets to create harmony across the organization may be best prepared for what is to come.

  1. Loyalty: Emotional vs. transactional
    Retailers should look beyond tiered programs built around traditional loyalty and benefits—points, dollars off, gifts, mailers—that at best elicit “transactional” loyalty. In an industry shifting toward experience-based models, retailers should look to make emotional connections, not just transactional ones.

    With a genuine approach to driving consumer loyalty, retailers can optimize loyalty programs and make them even more valuable. Aligning the program with the values and the consumer conversation is imperative. Recently, loyalty programs have been expanding to focus on convenience (with home delivery or issue resolution) and experience (with exclusive events and limited-edition products).
  2. Digital startups and funding
    Digital startups are no longer playing in the shadow. They’re addressing chronic issues faced by the retail industry through innovative offerings, personalization, authentic engagement, differentiated fulfillment, and more. And the amount of capital flowing to retail tech startups is allowing these companies to realistically compete with established players.

    To help offset the early gains made by these startups, traditional retailers will have to push ahead, blurring the lines between business development and corporate strategy. To acquire the next big idea, they might have to seek out guidance from specialists or through a scouting approach.
  3. Emerging technologies
    Gone are the days when IT strategy was limited to architecture, modernization, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Investment options, technologies, and vendors number in the thousands, making it challenging to navigate and hone in on the next big thing.

    Ultimately, retailers should figure out how to scale these solutions and embed them into their way of doing business. To leverage the true power of next-generation technologies, retailers should make some significant changes. They should be able to consistently mine the data they collect, transform their operations to deliver on the brand promise, and adapt to the future of work.
  4. Leadership lessons from China
    To build a competitive advantage, retailers should consider looking at global cross-industry trends and build capabilities that can shape consumer experiences. For example, in China, consumers and the retail market have skipped a generation of technology: Next-gen technologies in the United States are yesterday’s technologies in China.

    Retailers should be looking at the leaders in China to better understand the art of the possible in emergent areas such as online-to-offline, last-mile delivery, supply chain as a service, social commerce, and the implications of advanced public and private infrastructure.
  5. Privacy by design
    For retailers, consumer data is a must-have. For years, the industry struggled with how to create and use data. Now companies are on the hook for what data they have and what it says about individuals.

    With regulation after regulation hitting the market, it’s time retailers had their privacy compliance road maps in place. But compliance can also be a catalyst for reinventing personalization and having honest conversations with consumers. Integrity matters in creating loyalty, especially when it comes to dealing with personal identity.
  6. Supply chain as a differentiator
    The supply chain is quickly becoming a way for retailers to offer consumers a differentiated service. But making the supply chain faster, more predictable, and cheaper is a difficult triad to manage simultaneously.

    As retailers buckle down and prepare for potentially challenging times ahead, supply chain improvements can be a significant growth driver. But rather than just investing in trends like automation smart packaging in reaction to competitors, retailers should think about accumulating long-term competitive advantages through wider supply chain strategies.

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Ending up on the right side of the retail tipping point

2019 will require synchronization of investments and synchronization of data. In the year ahead, are you ready for the clouds on the horizon? Where will you place your bets, and how will you ensure that they are integrated to maximize benefits for your organization?

Addressing these questions effectively will help separate tomorrow’s winners from tomorrow’s losers—and ultimately shape the future of retail.

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Look again

In today’s rapidly evolving marketplace environment, key business issues are converging with impacts felt across multiple industry sectors. What are the key trends, challenges, and opportunities that may affect your business and influence your strategy? Look for more perspectives and insights from some of Deloitte’s forward thinkers.

Discover more Industry Outlooks.

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