Future-proofing retail with trend forecaster Andrea Bell

Retail Gets Real Episode 295: WGSN’s Andrea Bell talks about global drivers in retail, consumer trends and why the future of retail is intergenerational

Remember the scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s fashion editor character Miranda Priestly gives a monologue on exactly how a particular shade of cerulean became popular one season and ended up on Andy Sachs’ sweater?

That’s not exactly how trend forecasting works, according to Andrea Bell, vice president of consumer insights at WGSN, a global authority on consumer insight and product design trends.

WGSN's Andrea Bell and NRF's Bill Thorne record an episode of Retail Gets Real
WGSN's Andrea Bell (right) records an episode of the Retail Gets Real podcast with NRF's Bill Thorne (left) at NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show.

“The biggest misconception on a whole stems from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ moment, that we just pick a color out of the air,” Bell says on this week’s episode of Retail Gets Real, recorded on-site at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show in New York City. “But the key shifts, [the trends] we predict, are based on a very stringent methodology.”

Bell’s journey to trend forecasting included a college major in cross-cultural studies, an interest in sociology and anthropology, and even a stint writing for women’s fashion magazines. “My first piece ever in print was on velvet body suits,” she says. “So, if you guys want to know where the Peabody went, you’re looking at it.”

Bell has presented her research on consumer behavior and shopping trends at Retail’s Big Show several times and keeps returning as a fan favorite. This year’s session was on the most important global driving forces that will shape the macroeconomic and business landscapes in 2025.

There were two big takeaways from the session, Bell says. One, retailers are concerned about a potential “polycrisis” — connected and cascading risks that are overlapping, such as climate change, supply chain disruptions and rising energy and food prices.

Retailers are also keeping a cautious yet curious eye on synthetic creativity like artificial intelligence-generated artwork. “Every retailer is trying to figure out how to engage, how do we communicate authentically and basically how do we future-proof ourselves against all these different social media platforms that will continue to take market share,” she says.

NRF 2023

Did you miss us in NYC? Take a look at our NRF 2023: Retail's Big Show event recap.

What excites Bell most about the future of retail is how the different generations are influencing each other and retailers. “It’s truly becoming intergenerational in how we grow businesses and scale businesses. It’s no longer just one demographic group. It’s not just Gen X or Boomers or Gen Z. I think the ways that people are working together — those reverse mentorships — are going to make long-term impacts in how we shop and how we live.”

Listen to the full podcast to hear more of Bell’s journey to trend forecasting and the best part of her job, what she saw and heard at Retail’s Big Show, and what topics she thinks will be popular at Big Show 2025.

Retail Gets Real logo image

The retail industry impacts everyone, everywhere, every day.

NRF’s podcast features unfiltered, insightful conversations with the industry’s most interesting people. Hear retail executives, industry experts, entrepreneurs and influencers discuss trends, their career stories and the future of retail.

Subscribe to NRF's Retail Gets Real podcast
 Apple | Spotify | Google

Related content

Easter Spending Expected to Reach Record $24 Billion
default image
Consumers plan to spend a collective $24 billion on Easter this year, according to NRF and Prosper.
Read more
300 Ways to tell retail’s story
NRF's Bill Thorne records a podcast episode at Retail's Big Show
As Retail Gets Real celebrates its 300th episode, host Bill Thorne reflects on the industry’s enduring change.
Read more
Barnes & Noble’s CEO is a book lover’s bookseller
Barnes & Noble
James Daunt on the retail chain’s resilience and the industry’s evolution.
Read more