Retail futures from Google Marketing Conference

Fri, 25/02/2022 - 11:23

Google recently aired its Google Marketing conference. The event was a detailed look at the future of online retail, finance, and advertising. Insights, there were aplenty. I’ve taken some notes, focusing on the future of retail. I highly recommend that you go and watch the videos yourselves, there’s a lot of food for thought in them.

When COVID-19 kicked off, there was a lot of speculation around the ‘new normal’, what trends would remain, and what trends wouldn’t. Here we are, a year later, and there appears to be some stickiness on some of those trends. The retail team at Google has started examining these trends more closely.


Sales will remain unpredictable – 15% of all Google searches are new. People are spending more time at home, and with that comes certain behaviours. I know, as I’ve been spending a lot of time in my study, using it as my office. I’ve had to get a second screen, increase my desk space, and organise a bundle of cables leading out of the various PCs that I own. I wouldn’t have been bothered by any of this if I wasn’t spending so much time in this room. The thing is, this behaviour is completely unnatural for me. If you told me a year ago that I’d be buying leather chairs to turn the spare room into a library, I’d tell you that you’re mad. It turns out that my forays into interior design and neatening up my spaces are not unique to me.

There’s also been an increase in clothing sales of tops, but not bottoms. How many of us are sitting in pyjama pants right now? The fact that 15% of Google searches are new, means that people are starting to think differently. They’re looking for inspiration, for ways to make their lives better in the new context they find themselves in. We’ve never seen this before. Sales have become unpredictable.


Consumers have three big priorities. Stock and delivery times are the first two. If your business is struggling to keep stock or your delivery times are not great, you had better fix that. Those two issues are damaging your brand, which in turn will damage your repeat business (and perhaps even new business if word gets out). We’ve always known that people have an affinity towards brands that share their ideals.

The third consumer priority takes this into account. As part of this drive towards convenience, consumer searches show a 71% increase in usages of terms like “sustainable”, “ethically sourced”, etc. This has always been a background trend, but it is becoming more prominent and I am aware of several businesses that have taken note and are beginning to take sustainability a lot more seriously.


Data has always been important, we know it, and many of us spend a lot of time looking at it. But how we use data needs to change. Sajal Kohli, senior partner and head of global retail at McKinsey has said that businesses need to gear themselves for “much shorter planning horizons”. So, if you’re planning your business activities on a one year timescale, you need to stop. Start planning your launches, promos, and campaigns on a quarterly or even monthly time frame. The data is there and you have the insights. Your business needs to become far more agile to account for the unpredictable environment we find ourselves in.

This should have been the approach to business the moment we had access to the volumes of data that we have access to. But for some reason we stuck to our old ways. Covid is forcing our hand and we need to adapt quickly.

Loyalty programmes

I’ve talked about loyalty programmes before in this forum, so I’m not going to go into this in too much detail. The bottom line is, have a good one, and make retention and repeat shops a priority.

I know that the ‘new normal’ conversation has been done to death. I’m also aware that a lot of the stats I’ve presented above are US-based. I don’t think it matters. This isn’t about Covid, this is about solid retail business practices. The things that the team at Google are telling us, are not new and wonderful insights. We’ve known these things all along.

Be agile, focus on data and insights, and put your customer first. These conversations have been around for years. Covid or no Covid, the pressure is on, and we need to start putting these principles into play.

*This article originally appeared on Retailing Africa

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