I’m keenly interested in where retail is going, the new technologies and trends I read about, and the direction in which the MI business is headed. We know technology is becoming more and more deeply ingrained in our everyday lives. And, although it’s hard to accept, it’s become an inescapable part of the shopping experience for consumers. Like that massive AOL program you could never quite uninstall from your PC, technology has enmeshed itself in every facet of retail: from POS systems, to marketing, to shopping itself. Like it or not, the new era is here to stay.

Dan Vedda recently touched on some great points regarding technology, and I highly recommend reading his August column, entitled “What’s Trending?” It contains some really important facts that you should consider and think about as you close out 2016 and start planning for 2017. After reading that great column, I was inspired to write about some previously discussed 2016 trends that I believe will grow in 2017.

1. Social media as a selling tool

Social media isn’t at its apex; it’s not even close. In the world of technology, it’s barely reached adolescence, and it promises to continue to influence buyers and create waves throughout retail for the foreseeable future. As consumers become more attached to brands, they become more affected by experience-based marketing. In the past, only brand-savvy loyalists cared to be “in the know,” searching for behind-the-scenes information and wanting to feel an emotional attachment to products and companies.

Social media can reach consumers on an emotional level by delivering content far more quickly than traditional advertising methods, with new options arising constantly. Manufacturers are already grasping that and integrating it into their marketing strategy. Savvy retailers should follow suit. Social media isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter anymore; if you aren’t already utilizing Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and possibly Beme (should it continue to grow), you’re rapidly falling behind and missing opportunities to connect with your customers.

2. Mobile payment and loyalty options

As consumers become more attached to their mobile devices, it will become more important to accept mobile payment options from Apple and Android devices. Chip cards are a pain in the ass, and carrying around a wallet full of cards and cash is so 1990s. I’ll never forget the instant appeal the first iPhone had to me…the idea that I no longer had to carry a phone and an iPod everywhere I went. Now, imagine no longer having to carry money, credit cards, boarding passes, movie tickets or coffee shop loyalty punch cards. Mobile payment options aren’t a fad; they’re a growing trend that will centralize daily information and payment usage for consumers whose time and convenience is, to them, valued at a premium.

I can pay for my coffee from my phone, redeem my loyalty points via an app, pay my credit card bill with another app and answer a question about a product I listed on Reverb—all while listening to the new Josh Ritter record. The ability to centralize and streamline the mundane functions of our lives frees us up to focus on other things. And that’s why this is going to continue to be a more important part of every facet of living, including our retail experiences.

3. Mobile POS systems and in-app purchasing

This one is a bit more of a prediction; maybe it’s just something I’m hoping for. You know what sucks? Standing in line. I go to the Apple Store to buy a new accessory and, instead of having to stand in line and wait for the one person in the universe who still writes checks, I can check out with anyone in the store. The convenience and time savings, as well as the streamlined experience, allow me to leave the store focused on the awesome thing I just purchased, rather than how annoying it was to wait in line. I know, I know…this is a “first world problem.” And it’s probably a solution to a problem most of us don’t even know we have. But, the line at my local Chipotle never takes fewer than 20 minutes to get through. So, instead, I order my food via an app, through which I’m also able to pay, so I can just pick it up. Panera offers a similar app, and a worker just leaves your food on a pick-up counter. You don’t even have to wait for a cashier to notice you.

Imagine being able to ring up your customer for a set of strings, a Taylor 614ce or anything else without giving him or her the time to second-guess the purchase while waiting to get to the counter. Brad Shreve, my mentor, once told me, “The first rule of retail is this: Once they say ‘yes,’ shut up.” What if you could turn that “yes” into an immediate purchase, with no lag time? What if, at your next band rental meeting, you could have iPads set up for parents, so they could simply enter their information? Or, better yet, what about a mobile-friendly site they can access on their phones? No lines to wait in; they just fill out a quick form and walk out with their instrument right then and there. Think of it as instant gratification, without an opportunity for second-guessing or buyer’s remorse. It’s the ultimate positive purchasing experience.

4. Unified data in omnichannel retail

POS systems are already a cumbersome and complex way to manage inventory. If you couple that with an e-commerce management system in which you’re then forced to reconcile your inventory manually, it’s maddeningly time-consuming. Add in every time a customer has walked through your door looking for a product listed on your Web site that you forgot to remove, and has then left disappointed because you didn’t have it. Omnichannel retail is a blessing—embrace it. The ability to receive a product into inventory, list it on your Web site and have it automatically update when it sells gives your customers an accurate picture of what you have and what your prices are. It also gives them real-time reasons to come into your store. Ever see something on sale in a Gap ad, only to find that the store was out of your size? Yeah…me, too. It’s pretty frustrating. Many in big-box retail have already embraced this technology. You can check to see if something is in stock at your local Best Buy and, if it’s not, you can buy it online and have it shipped site-to-store within a day or two.

Convenience technologies are of increasing importance to millennials, in particular, but to other generations, as well. Independent retailers will have to invest in convenience technologies, or else risk losing more sales to the competition. Think about that the next time you’re having a slow day and you see an ad for the new D’Addario Amazon Dash button, which allows guitar players to reorder their favorite strings instantly, at the push of a button, eliminating the hassle of calling, or having to drive to, your local store to see if the item is in stock. Think about it this December as you order your last-minute Christmas presents online, rather than trudging through bad weather, crowds and long lines.

How have you embraced emerging retail trends to make the buying experience for your customers a streamlined and positive one? What are your frustrations with, or concerns about, emerging technologies? Write to me at gabriel@larrysmusic center.com.

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