Here are my top retail tech trends for 2018

It might not mean your team gets to the Super Bowl (sighs), but being in Minneapolis has some serious perks. Last post, I wrote about why we’re America’s retail tech capital—hint: it’s got the startups, the VCs, the blue-chip companies, the Techstars folks—and this week, I’m going to tell you about the view from here looking out.

Here are the top retail tech trends on my mind as we kick off 2018:

We might finally be fulfilled when it comes fulfillment

In this era of two-hour Amazon shipping, warring grocery delivery services, and intense competition for warehouse space, companies are racing to prove their fulfillment system is the fastest horse.

I’m not quite convinced pure speed is the answer. Speed is good, but convenience is better. They’re not the same thing, though they often arrive together. I’m betting as we move even further towards laser-fast shipping, incremental gains in speed will start to matter less, and it will be all about eliminating hassle instead. How often is it that people really need their stuff in two hours or less, and are they willing to pay extra to shave off a few more minutes?

I think more customization and flexibility is the way forward. You can already schedule a Lyft ahead of time, so why not a grocery delivery to the park for that Sunday picnic you have planned? Thanks for the Coke, Amazon drone, and enjoy the friendly skies!

Blockchain’s untapped business potential

If the cryptocurrency bubbles can cool off for a little bit, we might start to see some real innovations, as businesses start to exploit blockchain’s underlying technologies.

I agree with Nikki Baird’s thoughts on this. Low transaction fees could juice consumer payments. The distributed ledger could help verify product pedigree and stop counterfeits. Blockchain’s borderless, decentralized tech could mean faster B2B payments and less regulatory hurdles.

Social media becomes an alternative retail channel

Social media sites already command huge audiences and influence how we consume news and entertainment. Some, like WeChat, dominate the payment market too. It’s not a stretch to think that these platforms could make killer alternative retail channels.

With Facebook’s ever-expanding Marketplace feature and Airbnb already selling experiences, some of the biggies are already dipping their toes in, and I suspect more will get wise soon.

Prediction and curation

Last but not least, I defer to the good folks at Square for my final two predictions. As it happens, they know a thing or two about retail, and I second their thoughts that predictive experiences and curated subscription services will keep up the strong progress.

Surveys already show half of customers (!) are likely to switch brands if their needs aren’t anticipated, and what with everything from Netflix to clothing brands trying to guess what you might like before you decide to click, there’s no sign that’ll slow down anytime soon.

What’s even better than a brand anticipating what you might choose? The brand choosing it for you! The success of companies like Stitch Fix, and it’s in-person counterparts at places like Sephora’s and Nordstrom’s personal stylist concepts, show that people are fine with not choosing something themselves, as long that something is darn good.

And if you want someone to pick the most important nuggets from the retail tech world and deliver them to you, well…stay tuned on this blog, friends.