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    Top 5 Retail Trends & Priorities 2024

    Building agility and resilience in a recovering market – 2024 is the year to create new opportunities, stronger systems, and the ability to react fast to a market liable to change.

    22nd November 2023 | 5 min read

    = Summary: Building agility and resilience in a recovering market – 2024 is the year to create new opportunities, stronger systems, and the ability to react fast to a market liable to change, by Ed Betts =

    Recent headlines point to market improvement, but retailers understand that reality, for most, has not yet fully caught up. The rate of inflation is declining, but unlikely to reach a target of 2% before at least 2025. Food inflation has dropped from a peak of around 17% to a more manageable 11%[1], yet the still-diminished spending appetite of squeezed customers dictates that overall growth has not necessarily followed. In many cases, retailers continue to suffer volume decline, with only discounters seeing any appreciable level of volume growth.

    For most retailers, this means the difficult times are not yet over. The supermarket model is built on volume, so any amount of negative growth means a dip in turnover. The challenge for 2024, as a sluggish market struggles to regain its footing, is to act to drive growth in volume, increase footfall, and expand market share, all while improving the agility and resilience of one’s business. The past few years have proven beyond doubt that anything can happen, and that retailers must ensure they carry the tools to react quickly when it does.

    Top 5 retail trends and priorities for 2024:

    1: Focus on automation

    Retail margins are traditionally tight, and the pressing issue of recovery means 2023 has seen them getting tighter still. There is little wiggle room left to optimise margins under existing operational structures. It is time for change: streamlining processes through restructuring and automation will be a major shift in 2024, both on the shop floor and within head office.

    The shift has already begun, with Asda announcing a major restructuring of its commercial function designed to simplify operations by allowing individual teams to focus on buying, ranging and pricing – and many more retailers will follow suit. 2024 will see new efficiencies found in the realignment of core functions, and a proliferation of automated systems which can adjust pricing, manage promotions, assist in media management, ensure stock assortment and create brand new innovations to improve efficiency and speed.

    2: Exploiting AI opportunities

    The rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers retailers new opportunities to strengthen, support and enhance inefficient processes – allowing staff the head space and breathing room to focus on driving business forward. While there’s pressure on retailers to simplify, they must be equally cognisant of the critical nature of innovation. Adopting the latest technology is the best way to be ahead of the curve and differentiate one’s offerings in a crowded market.

    Used responsibly and transparently in line with the guidelines set out in the 2023 UK AI Summit, AI forms the basis for new ways of retailing. AI driven analytics tools offer the security of planning activity far in advance, the agility to work with suppliers quickly to meet sudden market demand, and the ability to respond confidently to rival activity. Indeed, it has already become established as a vital part of modern process, marketing, and product innovation – and as retailers attempt to stand out and rebuild in 2024, the results of AI-based innovations will be the differentiator.

    AI’s labour-saving benefits support every core function: it frees buyers’ time to develop key relationships by negotiating automatically with regular suppliers; it can be a vital aid in marketing and merchandising, highlighting products which are eligible or suitable for promotion; its predictive models help on the shelf, pinpointing when a product should be launched or promoted.

    3: Increased focus on loyalty schemes

    Over the course of 2023 loyalty card promotions have become a crucial and successful driver of customer retention. Those retailers with the most established loyalty schemes have seen their customer base stay relatively steady, even against competition from discounters. A key focus of 2024, therefore, will be to build stronger loyalty schemes and foster a customer base which will not stray.

    For some retailers this means encouraging additional customers to sign up; for others, following the lead of Tesco and Sainsbury’s to establish loyalty card pricing will be a focal point. Some may even need to establish a new loyalty scheme from scratch. Whatever the reason, the powerful value of customer data, coupled with the proven retention benefits of such schemes, make loyalty programmes a strategic essential.

    In 2024, driven by AI insights, these will spread their net further – retailers will implement deeper offers, linked cross-promotional sales, and a data-driven expansion of bespoke voucher programs targeted directly to individuals based on their buying habits.

    4: Improved data mining

    Data is king: it has become the most valuable resource any business has at its disposal. Retailers collect a huge amount of data, but to date this tends to have been improperly and inadequately mined. Less than half[2] of retailers benefit from a complete picture of their data inventory. The battle to gain market share cannot be fought for free. Investing in data, however, pays for itself.

    In a changing market, strong data management has become even more essential. As retailers like Tesco[3] attempt to differentiate themselves by employing the online marketplace model and stocking third-party items not traditionally found on store shelves, AI analysis of data about non-stock items will help to identify new trends and opportunities for those retailers’ core ranges. Growth opportunities will come into focus. Innovation will present itself. Deep data knowledge reveals new ways for mainstream retailers to differentiate themselves from discounters.

    Accessing the insights offered by algorithmic processing, AI analytics, and unifying siloed sources into a single body of data intelligence are therefore a vital part of any 2024 improvement plan. The more data is processed, the more insights are discovered, and the more effective a retailer’s offers can be. And building in the ability to quickly glean and act upon new insights is imperative given what the past few years has taught us about the fluid and fragile nature of the market.

    5: Targeted media spend

    Retailers are not the only ones rebuilding. Cost pressures are showing signs of easing on suppliers, and they are now eager to boost sales by applying the funding to make it happen. Retailers must ensure that every penny of that potential promotional budget works hard, because an ineffective promotion is a waste.

    Exploiting these opportunities in the most efficient and valuable way demands the creative application of data, hence retail’s increased focus on loyalty schemes, but it is not the only way to make a promotion work. Greater command of their data will see retailers finding new ways to maximise traditional media spend in 2024, providing brands with the ability to advertise in the moment, reaching customers at the point that they are willing and able to make a purchase.

    [1] Kantar data – UK Retail Figures = 12 Weeks to the 1st October, 2023

    [2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1262066/data-usage-in-consumer-products-and-retail-industry/

    [3] https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/tesco/tesco-readies-online-marketplace-launch/683952.article

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