What’s in store for retail in 2020?

Photo: RetailWire
Nov 12, 2019

The year 2019 has certainly been an interesting one for retail. We’ve seen an enormous transformation as the industry has continued to evolve with establishments learning how to balance strategies between online and brick and mortar sales. 

In 2020, we can expect the market to be influenced heavily by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). Let’s look at five trends that will shape retail within the next year:

Open relationships

Winning retailers will build ecosystems by accelerating the use of new sales channels or working with value-adding partners that offer differentiation by supplementing products with relevant services. Gartner has described these as ecosystems that will create “connections between partners, employees and even competitors … built into vibrant networks that can unlock value for all.”

Support networks

Retailers will use IoT to innovate and differentiate but, most importantly, will begin to realize their IoT projects need to be connected. By connecting together IoT initiatives they will benefit from the “network effect” that transforms individual silos, projects and initiatives to enable new insights and innovation.

Sitting at the top table

Technology will take its rightful place at the organization’s top table in the New Year, following years of undervaluing the criticality of IT in enabling new business models. Technology leadership will start to bring innovation to the rest of the business, as visionary CIOs and their teams contribute new ideas.


Environmental responsibility will become a differentiator for retailers. An increased focus on the environment is starting to inform consumer choices and retailers will respond accordingly.

Smart retailers will see technology as a tool to help. This could be applying IoT and real-time AI responses to supply chain issues, improving data visibility that drives decisions, or using process mining to understand and eliminate delays that have an adverse environmental impact.

Blurred lines

The blurring of industry lines will continue as consumer goods companies seek to avoid using the traditional retailer. The direct to consumer business model focuses on delighting its customers without any intermediary involved. 

There’s no doubt about it, the latest trends in retail will continue to push the envelope as the technological landscape evolves. As long as retailers are prepared to incorporate new advancements in IT into their game-plan, they will be well-positioned to succeed in the year ahead.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: To what degree will the trends listed in the article affect the retailing business next year? Which of the five trends do you think will have the greatest impact on retailing in 2020?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The blurring of lines between the social, digital and commerce worlds will continue to dominate the conversation well into 2020."
"Until retailers face the fact that technology is the key to linking all the pieces together at scale, the blurring of lines, IoT, and support networks will be nothing but talk"
"Now that retail companies have increased IT spending, expect new efforts to personalize the shopping experience and assist store associates."

Join the Discussion!

21 Comments on "What’s in store for retail in 2020?"

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Ralph Jacobson

The blurring of lines described in the article will increase as more and more entities join the retailing world. Direct-to-consumer will jump in 2020 from the introduction of many brands that have never retailed in the past.

Bob Amster

Blurred lines may well have the biggest impact on retailing, and it won’t be a positive one for retailers. Manufacturers and wholesale distributors competing with the very channel that was created to make it easier for them to sell their products is going to have a negative impact on retailers, but it will be a re-distribution of sales. It will not change the size of the pie.

Joan Treistman

At the end of 2020 I think we’ll note that these five trends had similar and possibly little impact on retailing. However, it will be easy enough to have consumers galvanize around the environment. It’s a tangible concept for which they can have a binary reaction. Will it translate into retail dollars? Yes, on the part of retailers as they invest in promotion and sustainability. But I expect, to some degree, avoidance of commitment to purchase on the part of shoppers if they think the price tag is too high. That’s how it’s been for years.

Neil Saunders

All of these are good, but more important are the general macro-level trends which will affect the sector. Unfortunately for retailers many of these are very challenging. Among them I would include:

  1. Continued erosion of margins as retailers invest more in multichannel, continue to discount prices, and offer services like delivery for free;
  2. Format flex as legacy retailers attempt to reshape their physical chains to suit new patterns of demand;
  3. Heightening of competition from new entrants and non-traditional retail channels, including direct to consumer, resale and rental;
  4. Continued adaptation of business models to move from selling things to selling services, experiences, and lifestyles;
  5. Continued polarization as weaker players come under increasing pressure and innovative players accelerate in terms of growth and customer traction;
  6. Increased regulatory oversight in terms of how customer data is used and controlled.
Georganne Bender

Great points, Neil!

Lee Kent

You hit this one on the mark! For my 2 cents.

Brandon Rael

These are spot-on Neil!

Stephen Rector

Open relationships will continue to emerge – some will be successful while others will make people go “Huh, who thought that one up?” But brands must continue to try to find ways to get more eyes on their product – and if that means unique or different partnerships, so be it.

Cathy Hotka

Now that retail companies have increased IT spending, expect new efforts to personalize the shopping experience and assist store associates. I’m also looking forward to more investment into those associates and enhanced job satisfaction for them.

Shep Hyken

Technology is a powerful opportunity that positively impacts the retailer and the customer – often at the same time. For the retailer, technology will drive more streamlined processes, the ability to better control inventory, create better reports from data and more. For the customer, technology will create convenience through online purchasing, online researching, better personalized experiences and more.

Dave Wendland

Oliver has certainly hit on a number of key technology trends that are poised to impact retail in significant ways. Perhaps the largest contributor will be the open relationships described in the article.

My personal crystal ball extends beyond technology when considering the new face of retail and I believe three significant trends will be 2020 focuses: 1.) collaboration – retailers cannot go it alone and new, creative models and marriages will emerge; 2.) micro-warehousing – improving consumer access to products and the convenience of their delivery/location are paramount; and 3.) co-opetition – recognizing that brands are taking measures to exclude intermediaries and deliver direct to consumers, retailers must bring new value to the equation.

Jeffrey McNulty

I completely agree with you, Dave. Strategic partnerships are an evolving trend that can offset some risk for many retailers. Great insights!

Ken Morris

I believe the two most important trends that will affect retailing in 2020 and beyond are those listed above as support networks and eco-warriors.

IoT (support networks) holds great promise for retailers today. However there are many devices talking but few listening to the IoT broadcast. Separate islands of IoT proliferate and IT needs to acquire a layer or platform to be the ears and eyes and leverage task management to turn raw data into action. There is a huge labor savings to be had here by automating functions, activities, tasks and steps through leveraging IoT data.

Social responsibility (eco-warriors above) is an opportunity for retailers to map their offerings to their customers’ emerging awareness. By leveraging technologies such as blockchain to capture the origin and journey of their products from farm to table or store, retailers will win customer loyalty and market share.

Brandon Rael

It’s clear that the blurring of lines between the social, digital and commerce worlds will continue to dominate the conversation well into 2020. The smartphone will continue to be at the forefront of our lives and the portal to how we engage, communicate, discover, socialize and interact with brands.

The marathon to win the hearts and minds of consumers is ongoing, as brands are taking a very aggressive direct to consumer strategy by engaging with customers on social channels, opening showrooms, and driving new experiences that have been putting more pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers. Amazon will remain the default search, discovery and shopping app, however, their brick-and-mortar ambitions may intensify in both the grocery and convenience space.

Kathleen Fischer

The blurring lines of retail will continue to have the greatest impact as DTC options change the way consumers think and how retailers have to operate to be successful.

Lisa Goller

We’ll see all of these retail trends in 2020.

Technology leaders must be at the C-suite table, as their work permeates retail strategy and keeps companies agile and efficient.

Open relationships are essential, as the blistering pace of retail forces companies to collaborate to create new value by fusing their strengths.

Eco-warriors will continue to thrive in 2020, as 2019 was a massive year for sustainability. Consumer demand for less plastic and more plant-based foods reflects their desire to protect the environment.

In addition, more large brands will go direct-to-consumer to access data insights for personalized service despite the logistical complexity and costs. IoT seems premature yet big market leaders will invest more in this technology in 2020 to stay ahead.

Cynthia Holcomb

Until retailers face the fact that technology is the key to linking all the pieces together at scale, the blurring of lines, IoT, and support networks will be nothing but talking points. All trends will be impacted by the technical chops of leadership and the people they select to once and for all connect the dots between the business, the product, and the consumer under the mantle of a retailer’s reason for being, existing to inspire.

Leveraging talent and AI are key. Retailers, as master merchants, must dive deep into technology to take part in creating a holistic customer experience for their brand. Amazon sure knows how to do this! C-suite needs visionaries to engage and inspire the troops, which means seeking talent outside the walls of inside politics and fiefdoms. Change happens incrementally. Without a solidly engaged C-suite and technical roadmap? Well, we have all seen the effect of failure in mass store closings.

Jeff Sward

I like Neil’s list a lot, especially #1, which I view as the race-to-the-bottom and last-mile cloud under which businesses seem to be stuck. “Free” is not a sustainable long term strategy. So how will product innovation and all the great tech gizmos help differentiate a retailer or brand to a level of customer experience that they will be glad to pay for? And … what does the mall of 2025 look like and behave like? And I don’t mean Hudson’s Yard. I mean a suburban “B” mall. The first steps down the road to that mall will continue in 2020.

Liz Crawford

Technology – AI, the Internet of Things and integration of social media with retail – will be increasingly leveraged by retailers in 2020. But I believe the industry is still in learning mode. We will all watch as some efforts succeed and others fail. Perhaps the most interesting of all will be the consumer’s reaction to these initiatives.

Jeffrey McNulty
The retail landscape has dramatically changed in the past few years. I predict that more retailers will start embracing innovative strategies that are much more customer-centric: engaging, experiential, and convenient. Retailers must be careful not to swing the pendulum too far towards technological advancements. People innately crave interaction and I would caution retailers to find the “Goldilocks Syndrome” for a healthy balance between technology and human engagement. In speaking with retail leaders, customers, and vendors, they are expressing that far too many retailers are focusing most of their creativity and innovation on technology at the expense of human interaction. I am fully supportive of AI, IoT, and smart devices that assist consumers. However, the human element must be “front and center” to counteract the deluge of machines. I foresee that more retailers will start to implement the following methodologies in 2020: strategic partnerships with digitally native brands, 3D printing solutions, interactive mirrors/smart fitting rooms, and collaborative relationships with Amazon. I am optimistic about the retail sector in 2020. I am looking forward to witnessing retailers… Read more »
Harley Feldman

IT and AI will be even more important to retailers and they want to offer better service to their consumers. Data will be a key asset in the decision process. Eco-warriors will be a demand issue that will grow into the future. The blurring of lines allowing direct sales will cause the biggest challenge to retailers. They will have to offer services unavailable from the items’ producers to maintain their customer base.

"The blurring of lines between the social, digital and commerce worlds will continue to dominate the conversation well into 2020."
"Until retailers face the fact that technology is the key to linking all the pieces together at scale, the blurring of lines, IoT, and support networks will be nothing but talk"
"Now that retail companies have increased IT spending, expect new efforts to personalize the shopping experience and assist store associates."

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