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Comment: the latest retail trend is for trends says MCM Creative Group's Justin Gray

These days’ consumers want to shop trends, not categories. For retailers, customer insight and segmentation are more important than ever. And it's the brands that focus on it, taking the time to understand behind-the-scenes research and then capitalise on that information, that will stay ahead of the competition.

Consumers want to trust their chosen retailer  on things like quality and service, but also on elements far beyond that. They want to be inspired by the purchases they're making, and to be able to depend on retailers to point them in the right direction.

The increasing desire to shop according to trends reflects a desire to look forward. Brands such as John Lewis use a combination of insight and evidence to identify the next key trends in order to meet this market need. By analysing their trading reports in new ways, in particular data relating to purchasing patterns, it's possible to link back naturally to product lines, editing the offer into distinct mind-sets beyond traditional product categories.

It’s natural for retailers to look backwards rather than forwards when it comes to marketing their proposition. But taking a more forward-facing stance, in particular a genuinely consumer-led one, can have a revolutionary impact.

We all recognise the meteoric rise in online shopping, not least in terms of how consumers needs in-store have changed as a result. They want experiences, and to be surprised. Trends have a crucial role to play here. Trend- rather than category-led store environments contain totally different interiors, and consumers interact with them in ways that are very different to the norm. Sleep is a classic example. A sleep-focused trend display will contain home product lines, but also sleepwear and technology, among other things. You're selling a lifestyle, not just a new pair of PJs. The result is a far more experiential experience for the consumer. 

All of this is still in its infancy, but we'll see it emerging as the dominant approach in years to come. In-store environments are going to develop in increasingly exciting ways, with trends-focused spaces designed to let consumers interact with products across multiple categories, simultaneously.

Stories have an important role to play. An improved economy doesn't only create a rise in consumer confidence, it also leads to changes in priorities when making purchasing decisions. Consumers become increasingly nostalgic, and as a result start taking an interest in the stories behind the products they are buying. With sophisticated shoppers this goes even further. They want to really understand the trend they are buying into, and that includes the rationale for a particular product being part of a particular trend. At the end of the day we all love stories. This need is driving deeper insight into why people want to shop trends in the first place.  

Where is all this leading us? There is tremendous scope to further blur the lines between in-store and online experiences, things that go way beyond the multi-channel approach retailers take currently. Analytics show what online shoppers click on first; the next step is for retailers to use this insight to drive how in-store environments are laid out.  It's not possible to capture that ‘first click’ information in-store but online you can map the journey and record it all. This information can then be fed info to branches, to have a direct impact on a physical estate. 

The effects of all this will be dramatic. And it's coming just in time. In some ways shopping is less inspiring than it used to be, particularly online. Developments such as the ones above will bring with them the theatrics we all crave. Trends will be the saviour of inspiration. 

Justin Gray is executive producer and creative at MCM Creative Group