By Robin Walters

When it comes to predicting retail trends for 2017, it’s important to note that Army Navy surplus stores are different from other retailers. It’s a hybrid; part thrift or bargain store and part traditional retail outlet. Some of these stores dominate the Internet with e-commerce; others only have a physical storefront. But no matter what business model you follow, there are a few trends in the retail industry that we should be paying attention to as we march in our best pair of tactical boots toward 2017.

Prediction: The Internet Of Things (IoT) will continue to dominate every aspect of human existence. If you’ve not heard the term, the IoT refers to the global connection of digital devices via cloud technology. It includes everything from the computer I’m typing on, to your smart phone, wearable technology, your store security system, and the computer in your car. Internet-connected digital computing devices rule the planet, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably not going to save us.

How to Respond: There’s a lot of money flying around the Internet, so if your surplus store isn’t selling online, you’re falling behind. Here’s an interesting statistic: Synchrony Financial says 71 percent of consumers would choose to shop in-store if they were told online that the item was in stock.

Relying strictly on bricks and mortar to produce all of your sales is like putting all your eggs in one basket. If that basket breaks, you’re not having that omelet. If it’s been months since you even looked at your website, then Houston, we may have a problem.

Take a lesson from the survivalists that visit your store and have a backup source of revenue, just in case. Get your products online ASAP.

Tip: Like selling online but don’t want to ship? Consider click and collect, where consumers order the item online, and then pick it up at the store. Imagine a drive through surplus experience, where the customer pulls up to your window and you have their order ready. Would you like a stun gun with that order of camo?

Prediction: You can huff and you can puff…
For the past few years, marketing analysts have been predicting that the IoT would propel e-commerce sales figures into the stratosphere and brick and mortal stores would eventually fail as a result. They were only partially correct; national e-commerce sales are on track to surpass analysts’ predictions of $327 billion in 2016. U.S. e-commerce sales are expected to hit more than $650 billion in 2020. The percentage of retail sales captured through e-commerce (verses storefront sales) is increasing.

Conversely, overall retail sales are holding steady, despite growing a little stagnant in the summer of 2016. It seems the old school brick and mortar businesses will stick around awhile longer, despite all the huffing and puffing from the big bad Internet. The best news of all for surplus stores is that your consumers are very interested in the experience of shopping at your store. That’s the appeal of Army Navy: every shopping trip is an interesting treasure hunt – kind of like Pokémon GO.

Prediction: Personalization is in so your customers are expecting a seamless shopping experience catered to their every need. The buying cycle that used to be centered in the retail outlet now has more twists and turns than a mountain road. The modern consumer retail journey includes:

• Customer finds item she likes online, searches for consumer product reviews and compares prices.
• Customer visits brand website and watches product videos.
• Customer sends picture to social media contacts, asking for advice.
• Customer customizes product and orders it online.
• Customer posts a product review on social media.
• Customer receives personalized email from retailer suggesting another item she might like.
• Customer visits retail outlet to browse and buys the item.

How to Respond: To attract a wider audience, surplus stores should modernize their customer experience. Give serious thought to technology upgrades that will allow you to hit multiple digital channels. Consider the customer experience as a relationship that must be nurtured and then use the ‘net to make it happen.

Prediction: Social media will be crowned King of the World. Globally, 66 percent of all adults log on to Facebook every day. Bloomberg says Snapchat has 10 billion video views daily. Cisco says video views will account for 69 percent of all online traffic by 2017. Retailers are capitalizing on these trends by creating multi-channel shopping experiences that include utilizing social media at every turn.

How to Respond: If social media is King then content in the form of web-based blogs, whitepapers, and ebooks, is Queen. Statistics tell us retail customers want emails and alerts, suggestions on new products and user reviews to help them make a purchase decision. Forget billboards, print and radio and start thinking about where your audience surfs the digital wave. Would boosting a Facebook post help your store? Have you shared product videos on your website? How about blogging? Social media has an increasingly powerful influence on consumers – and it’s growing.

PREDICTION: The kids are definitely all right.
Question: What’s the best way to speak to a Millennial?
Answer: Type at them.
Here’s some great news for Army Navy surplus: Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, love “authentic” products. But they prefer finding them online. This is the first generation that grew up with digital devices, so these “kids” are impatient with the traditional shopping experience. They want what they want – now, please, and are two to three times more likely to purchase something with their smartphones than any other age group. Why is this important? Pew Research says Millennials just surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest population in the United States.

How to Respond: Natural attrition will make attracting those young phone-centric individuals increasingly important to your store. Keeping current with the latest digital trends, improving your online presence, and streamlining the in-store shopping experience will keep your business current in this very competitive retail marketplace.

Robin Walters is a writer, organic farmer, prepper, and dog Mom. By day, she’s a marketing/communications/sales exec; by night, a content author.