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Retail in 2020 - what this year holds for independent brands

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What's in store for retail in 2020? What trends are emerging and what does that mean for your business? Looking at trends for the coming year is an important part of any independent product business' annual planning. I want to highlight 3 key trends in the retail world for this year and give you suggestions on how to respond to them.


You’ve heard about this a lot and it’s not going anywhere. Environmental considerations – over consumption, environmental impact – today’s consumer is getting more and more concerned about how the products they buy are manufactured, packaged, shipped - are they long lasting? What is the impact on the planet? Ultimately customers want to know if the products they purchase align with their values in the pursuit for a more ethical lifestyle.

It's at the forefront of customers minds. Searches for eco Christmas gifts on Google were at 90% last year in the UK and sustainable UK fashion searches were up 200% and this trend, this way of consuming is going to be firm throughout 2020.

Hearteningly independent retail brands are usually much further ahead than the big brands with sustainable thinking in every part of their business – so this in some ways is a trend small business are setting, meeting and shaping.

So what do you need to do as a retailer? Firstly you need to ask what does it mean to you to be a sustainable retailer? What does that actually cover? It’s a vague term so you need to decide more specifically in what ways you already are sustainable and where else you can be - the longevity of your products, manufacturing, shipping, carbon footprint, single use plastic waste, packaging - are some examples.

How circular can you be? Can you encourage customers to reuse your products or to repurpose them? Can you offer mending services? How do you prolong the life of your products? We’re seeing more and more business incorporating circular practices into their business models so whether that is offering free repairs for life on clothing or sending out patches to make repairs yourself - what can you do to encourage people to extend the life of products to reduce the amount that’s going into landfill.

Once you are clear about your sustainability efforts, you need to share those values and the story about your brand with the consumer. They are seeking those stories and those ethical values often before they search for the product. Consumers want to have a personal connection to the brands that they’re buying from – something that independent brands offer as their USP.

The more you create a shared experience around your ethics and values the more you’re going to be relating to the 2020 customer.

Be prepared to answer questions about sustainability - about your packaging, about the way your products are produced, where they’re produced – a lot of customers want to know about this and there’s a growing sensitivity towards ‘greenwashing’ – companies saying they are sustainable but actually it’s just a marketing tool. Go through your supply chain, ask your manufacturer if you're using one, ask the questions that your customers will ask you and if they haven’t asked you yet - will.

Can you put information in FAQ on your website, could you have a statement about what you are doing relating to environmental impact? The key here is to be transparent, if reducing plastic packaging is challenging, be open and honest with your customers in you communications – don’t try to hide anything.

Physical Retail

There will definitely be more store vacancies in 2020. The bigger retailers are reducing their store count as much as they can - many of them signed 25 year leases many years before Amazon even started so those leases have come to an end now and they are closing as the way customers shop for their products changes – I predict more large retailers will go into administration this year leaving more empty shops on the high street.

On the positive side there are also a huge number of business improvement districts (BIDs) and local councils who are really taking charge of their local area – there are several towns around England that have some very exciting ways of bringing more people to the town centres and I think we will continue to see physical retail evolve.

It will continue to be a really important way of connecting with your customer, in fact online sales are getting tougher as well so for big retailers the cost acquiring new customers has gone up massively in recent years also the cost of deliveries have grown with expectations around returns high. Those are all really hurting the profit that big retailers are experiencing online so they are still turning to physical retail. It will be different - I don’t think we’ll see as many long leases being signed by retailers big or small and we will see continued growth of pop-ups,

Markets and shopping events where people want to come and have an experience continues to grow. Events that mix food, leisure and retail together to create experiences that people actually want to come and see products in real life will become more commonplace.

It will just look very different from the high street of 10 years ago but I actually feel very optimistic about physical retail and think we’ll see some really exciting things happening.

One of the growths I’ve seen in the last couple of years is these multi brand pop-ups – so communities bringing together many brands that are selling online that maybe wouldn’t take on a whole shop by themselves – they take on the shop and bring together brands, give them the opportunity to be in front of customers. Exciting and innovative popups – almost like department stores on a tiny scale – I think we’ll see those continue to grow in 2020.

What role does physical retail play for you – it’s definitely not dead of dying so the questions is what role can it play for your business. It’s reinventing itself so there are lots of opportunities and it's more flexible than ever for independent brands. Remember it is the best way to get in front of customers, to hear feedback, to get realtime visibility of how people react to your product, to hear firsthand the questions that they ask - so ensure it's part of your 2020 sales strategy in some form.


There are tons of retail product businesses starting up online - competition in the space is getting fiercer. Alongside that people are getting more used to shopping from a company that specialises in one type of product - the one stop shop, the department store are less popular.

People are becoming increasingly comfortable in buying a products from niche businesses, businesses that do one type of product very well, to a high standard with a good sustainability record. I work with a lot of brands who have a very focused product offering that speaks to a very particular customer, for example Otto and Ivy is a brand that launched recently making beautiful shoes for women size 8 feet and larger - it’s a very niche market but one that was well researched and creates a really beautiful product for a niche customer – this will become increasingly important as we go through 2020.

You don’t have to speak to everyone in fact when you try and speak to everyone in this crowded space the more you will be speaking to no one - knowing your niche is going to become really important.

I think that we will also see niche events so instead of seeing general craft markets, I think we’re going to see more tailored events. Maybe a market with a very particular customer in mind – so as an independent brand when you come to select which events or pop-ups you attend, being really clear on your niche and your positioning is key.

Make sure that any event you take part in online or offline your marrying that up with your niche and your customer – showing you understand where you fit in with your brand and that you keep inline with your beliefs and brand values.

Want some help getting your business ready for 2020? Find out more about how I can help right here.

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