These 7 international trends are coming to a high street nea

By 2023, the Netherlands will have more webshops than physical shops for the first time. Still, consumers hold onto a need for the old-fashioned shopping street. Expert Harry Bijl believes that in order to remain relevant, retailers must be on top of the latest trends. He lists 7 international trends on which Dutch business owners can capitalise, such as the super-specialisation.

A survey that ABN AMRO held among 1,500 consumers reveals that online shopping has been gaining in popularity for years. A total of 35% of the respondents intend to visit physical stores less often. Online shopping is appealing on account of its speed, price, and convenience (in Dutch). At the same time, 62% of those surveyed reported a preference for physical stores. In other words, there are still opportunities for people who want to open a new store.

“Technology plays a key role in the retail of the future,” says Harry Bijl, who works as an innovation expert at sector organisation Koninklijke INretail. He is aware that adapting to trends can be challenging for smaller businesses and traditional retailers. “Still, my advice would be to go back to the drawing board. Find out what is going on, be open to change, and break free from old patterns. You can be innovative even with a small budget. Keep track of trends and developments and find out what suits you and your customers.”

Following trends

Bijl likes to go into the field to see with his own eyes what is happening among retailers. Internationally, he thinks New York and Shenzhen are interesting cities. “In New York, I feel the sheer number of people and the high-performance drive play a role. Under that kind of pressure, you are more likely to see new trends and developments. China is very interesting on account of its numerous digital impulses.” Closer to home, Bijl names the formerly dreary Warsaw. The city has flourished thanks to the arrival of creatives and hospitality business owners.

Still, as a business owner you do not need to travel around the world to stay up-to-date, says Bijl, who has not been on an airplane in a while. “Due to corona, I now stay on top of trends mainly through YouTube, webinars, and new reading materials.”

New trends imported to the Netherlands

Although the world of retail is constantly changing, not every trend ends up surviving. Bijl has high expectations of the 7 trends outlined below.

1. Super-specialisation

“One of the trends we are seeing abroad right now – including in the Netherlands, at this point – is what is known as super-specialisation. “Instead of going to a traditional hair salon, you visit the Dry Bar for a blow-dry and to get your hair styled. And instead of going to a regular pet shop, there’s Cat’s Place, where they have everything you need for your cat. There are a growing number of retailers who are taking this type of specialisation very far. In Amsterdam, for example, you have a venue called De Balkonie, which offers a special range for decorating and customising your balcony.”

Bijl is aware of another Dutch example of super-specialisation in Den Bosch: De Koning, an off-licence specialising in whisky. The owner sells as many as 1,665 different types of whisky, in addition to books, glasswork, and sample sets.

2. Online in physical store

The unmistakable sound of hangers sliding down the clothing rail... Your customers will continue to browse the racks filled with trendy shirts and trousers. The only difference is that they also consult their phone while doing so. An app or website provides information and answers questions. What is the right size of trousers for me? Where was it manufactured, and using what materials? What about that one shirt, is it still available in my size? Customers can also use their mobile to pay and have their purchases delivered to their home.

Bijl has noted that livestream-selling is very common in China: “You might see a local business owner going live on a platform or a similar site. Customers look on as the retailer displays products. All it takes is one click – they can buy anything they want.”

At large Chinese department stores, the technology is even more sophisticated. While out shopping, customers see fish swimming around a large aquarium. “If they get hungry, they simply pick a fish they like, send an order to the restaurant kitchen using their mobile, and then receive a push notification when their table is ready. A robot then serves them their fish.”

3. Close to customers

Due to the huge convenience involved, many consumers regularly shop at large online stores. The downside is that returning or changing items can be a hassle due to all the rules involved, the boxes, return labels, shipping costs, and so on. Small service-oriented shops located in city centres make it easier for businesses to help their customers and reduce commercial traffic and environmental impact. While these shops do not actually have any stock of their own, customers can use them to order, exchange, ask questions, or have minor repairs carried out on the spot. “Nordstrom Local in the United States is a good example,” while in the Netherlands retailers Coolblue and Belsimpel already have physical stores (in Dutch).

Major companies also use this format to raise their profile and create customer loyalty. “If you see a small boutique run by a business that offers a massive product range online, you are more likely to create brand loyalty among customers.”

Similarly, Bijl has witnessed the emergence of ’city versions’ of retail chains consumers mainly know as large stores, such as Praxis, IKEA, and the furniture brands Xooon and Rivièra Maison. “I have also seen garden centres with small outlets moving into city centres with a specially adapted product range.”

4. Health & Beauty

While various traditional retailers are struggling and vacancy rates in city centres are on the rise, there is one rapidly growing sector that seems to have a bright future. A growing number of businesses specialising in health and beauty are  setting up shop amid retailers . This trend has been visible in the United States for some time, and is currently also catching on in the Netherlands.

Bijl has observed different types: “Gyms, beauty salons, yoga stores, and even city spas. While visits to these types of places used to be somewhat anonymous, they are much more out in the open now. In the United States, you will find indoor malls with complete ‘market squares’ in the middle, designed completely around beauty. There are nail salons, brow bars, and wax bars, to name a few.”

5. Personal shopping

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people in the Netherlands could only go shopping by appointment. This created a special form of personal shopping. “But this trend had actually already caught on before the pandemic.” Bijl is certain that the phenomenon is here to stay, just as it has been successful in Britain and the USA for many years. “It suits certain types of shops and customers.” Personal shopping gives customers the opportunity to receive the undivided attention of a dedicated shop assistant and find the perfect outfit or TV set, for example. This might be during regular opening hours, or after the store has closed.

6. Gadgets and contraptions

Bijl describes retailer B8ta (pronounced ‘bay-ta’) as a “type of electronic appliance store filled with the latest gadgets... They sell small series of innovative products, which is how they test which items are marketable and appeal to a wider audience. This format already exists in Amsterdam: it is called Productpine.”

Bijl expects more trial stores to open up in the future. But he also believe there are opportunities for traditional shops when it comes to technical gadgets. “We will soon be seeing coats that come with all kinds of technical features. Such as a heating function. You can add these types of niche products to your range in your boutique.”

The recently opened Amazon Salon in London is a showcase for the rapid advances in technology. “It is a hair salon with a floor space of more than 1,500 m2. Needless to say, they hire only the best stylists and you can buy just about anything there. But you can also go there to explore, for example by trying a virtual hair colour to find out what looks best on you.”

7. Return of the mobile supermarket

Remember the fully loaded, extra-large camper that regularly visited your neighbourhood? And the cheerful driver who honked to signal his arrival? That may be a thing of the past, but an updated version of the mobile supermarket is making a comeback. These grocery stores on wheels are more in line with our digital age. “You can already see them all over China: unmanned mobile supermarkets that are available to consumers on demand. Inside, they operate the same as any convenience store nowadays: you can scan and pay for your groceries yourself.”