As anyone in the retail industry knows, brands are always searching for ways to strengthen their relationships with customers.

And this year saw a number of giants leaps in the retail space. Amazon’s big acquisition of Whole Foods shook the retail world and caused competitors to rethink their strategies. Also, AI and chatbots played a much larger role throughout the customer journey.

Here are three ways that retailers can find success in the new environment.

Whole Foods meals
Bloomberg News

More purpose-driven brand partnerships. 2018 will give rise to a greater frequency of purpose-driven partnerships between retailers that transcend in-moment engagements to create long-lasting benefits for consumers. These alliances will increase customer traffic and accessibility to brands, while offering products meant to enhance the experiential shoppers’ journey in the new year. Companies like Target and Barnes & Noble are testing the brand-adjacent waters to enhance visibility and bring customers through the door. The retailers recently enacted a "college essentials" program for online payments and picking up in-store.

Shoppers can place orders on Target’s website and pick them up in Barnes & Noble’s physical locations. The new year will see an influx of similar partnerships as retailers continue searching for new ways to connect with customers outside of the transactional relationship.

Communication and customization. Retailers are coming to the realization that their main target demographics, millennials and, increasingly, Gen Z, connect with brands that are proactive in engaging them. In 2018, we’ll see more brands looking to create free-flowing channels of open dialogue and product customization options with audiences to deepen brand connections and drive product interest. Retailers will leverage feedback and connectivity through social media and messaging platforms, frequent points of contact with both demographics, while also leveraging customization to create experiential purchasing journeys. Both tactics will encourage consumers to express their individuality and create a more intimate relationship with shoppers.

Additionally, the aforementioned target demographics want to feel like they’re part of a brand’s overall message, rather than being treated as a buying statistic. It’s important for brands to keep reinventing their approach towards the tailored customer experience by taking the needs and personalities of consumers into account. Customization, coupled with a growing use of technology to cull data on consumers, such as AI, chatbots and voice assistants, will all help brands’ missions to better understand consumers.

Voice-driven experiences. 2017’s holiday season is a crowning moment for mobile e-commerce, with 54% of web visits coming from smartphones and tablets. 2018, however, will see the official rise of voice-driven experiences entering the mainstream. With voice assistants currently flooding the smart home hardware market (e.g. Google, Alexa, Cortana, Siri), the new year will see retailers adapting and learning how to engage consumers directly with tools such as Amazon’s Alexa Skills, which allowed third parties to create ‘apps’ on the Alexa platform. Brands will use these to create enhanced connections with consumers and augment their voice assistant offerings to deliver tailored, data driven buying experiences, especially as voice-enabled search becomes more accurate and user-friendly. Consumers will become more comfortable using voice assistants like UX for search and interaction improves. Early adopters like Tide and Johnny Walker tested the waters as early adopters to minimal success.