Retailers Often Misfire When Trying to Reach Consumers

Retailers and brands must become more nimble in the digital world, be better editors of merchandise and become more sincere on social issues to be relevant to consumers.

That’s the opinion of a recent report called “WGSN Future Consumer 2021,” released by London trend forecaster WGSN. The annual report charts changes in consumer tastes, needs and desires and analyzes how shoppers from around the world want retailers and brands to engage with them.

While many entrepreneurs worry that consumers—especially younger consumers—are buying less, there is still a lot of opportunity and new business to be cultivated online, said Andrea Bell, the Los Angeles–based director of insight for WGSN Insight, the marketing research arm of WGSN.

For example, one teenager interviewed by WGSN said that many retailers continually misfire when they are trying to sell their merchandise. According to Bell, the teenager held up her phone and said: “All of these retailers say we don’t go to malls. We do. You just don’t go to my mall.”

Every generation of consumers is immersed in the digital world, the report found. To reach them, businesses must go where they are. The paper called it finding “third spaces,” or digital forums not previously considered.

Swedish brand Carlings was a pioneer in finding new digital forums, Bell said. In November 2018, it released a digital-only collection of clothing. It made a splash because people put Carlings’s digital clothes on their social-media pages. Businesses noticed this because the digital world gives a lot of space to experiment.

“We call it a ‘test or invest’ model. [Businesses] can figure out whether it works and if they want to make a long-term investment in producing it,” Bell said.

WGSN’s proprietary research methods used in the report divided consumers into several groups. One was the time-starved “compressionalists,” who reward companies offering them convenience and tightly edited merchandise.

Another group was the entrepreneurial “market makers,” who are looking for corporate innovation and interaction through peer-to-peer markets. There are also “kindness keepers,” who reward companies that wear their values on their sleeves.

“There is a shift in people really wanting to support companies that align with an internal belief or value,” Bell said. “They either boycott or ‘buycott.’ They’ll actually buy with the company that aligns with their brand values.” If businesses want to appeal to this consumer, they have to prove they are committed over the long term to a specific cause.

While this consumer report found digital is a big deal, groups such as the National Retail Federation said that physical stores will continue to be crucial in the near future. In April, the NRF forecast that by 2021 online will comprise 25 percent of the total retail market, leaving a lot of space for bricks-and-mortar stores.