THE BLOG
18/10/2013 06:31 BST | Updated 16/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Retail Has Changed Beyond Recognition in Just Five Years

Business Week magazine recently described how consumer behaviour has changed in the US since the economic downturn. Of course the downturn affected many more places than just the US, with the UK experiencing a prolonged downturn too. Given the number of charity shops and boarded windows still on the British High Street, many would argue that we have not reached what anyone could call a recovery just yet.

The Business Week article focused on the experience of pharmacy brand Walgreens, but it got me thinking about this recent period and how much consumers have changed during this time - across all the developed markets that were really hit by the downturn of the past few years.

The global crisis really started in 2007 and reached a peak in 2008. This is just five years ago, but some really significant changes have swept across the way people shop and share information since then - not just because of the economic crisis. There have been significant social and technological changes during the same period of time as the obvious economic upheaval.

Shoppers are now doing their research

Social networks are now common. Networks such as YouTube and Facebook were already around back then, but only used by the early adopters - those aware of new technology trends and ready to try things early. Many common tools used by retailers today, like Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, just didn't exist.

We are now so far down the road of accepting social media as a normal part of business life that jobs including phrases such as 'social media manager' are already on the decline. The jobs that are on the increase are focused on specific areas of social business, or the specific visual networks that retailers love - like Vine and Instagram.

Shoppers want social support

This also means that the concept of social media customer support did not exist back then. The idea that a complaining customer could easily broadcast their views to millions of people instantly - none of this was a consideration back then.

And this changes a lot in the relationship between brand and customer. Tools like Tripadvisor have not been around for long, but now there are hotels getting eighty or ninety per cent of their bookings because customers used reviews to guide them to a place to stay.

Shoppers are now online anywhere

The first iPhone was launched in 2007. Can you remember what smart phones were like before the iPhone? Mobile web browsing was clunky and awkward. Because of this, many people didn't even have contracts that would support the use of mobile data. Since the iPhone launch - and the development of Android - it's now common to have mobile access to the Internet at all times.

So the shopper of 2013 is very different to the shopper of 2006. They have immediate access to information such as price comparisons, reviews, and can gather the opinion of friends before making a purchase.

All this information is available immediately anywhere, at home before going to the shops or while in the shops - comparing prices for example. It's no surprise that price matching is set to be one of the biggest retail trends in the years ahead.

This is a bigger behavioural change than the recession

The economic slowdown has changed shoppers and their behaviour. It may even have changed our attitude to credit and purchasing things before we can pay, but I think the easy access to information granted by the mobile Internet and social networks has been even more significant in changing the general behaviour of shoppers.

All this in the past five years; what will the next half a decade bring?