2020 has been an exceptional year for the retail sector, with all businesses having to rapidly adapt in some way or another. Such a time of upheaval has led to a permanent, irreversible change in consumer behavior as shoppers embrace the convenience and security of ecommerce more readily. There is much for retail organizations to do to make themselves resilient to the incoming challenges, but enhancing omnichannel capabilities and building powerful ecommerce experiences will be crucial.
These are our predictions for retail in 2021.
Consumer Behavior has Changed for Good
Before the pandemic even struck, consumers were leaving their homes less often to make purchases because of the convenience offered by online-based brands — think of the success of Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber Eats and supermarket delivery services. The arrival of COVID-19 and the fact that we’ve spent a lot more time at home has accelerated this trend.
Accepting that this “cocooning” is a permanent shift is an important first step for success in 2021. Many people will still want to go out to a brick-and-mortar store, of course, but the dynamic has changed and brands will have to adapt their strategies to suit. This will mean focusing more heavily on the experiential aspect of the physical store in order to truly differentiate from competitors.
Omnichannel Approaches are the Way Forward
The brands that will stand out in 2021 are the ones that take steps to properly unify their online and in-store experiences. The companies that have done well this year are the ones that innovated in this manner early on in the pandemic, such as local businesses switching to home delivery services or larger retailers spinning up a click-and-collect service on the fly.
On the ecommerce side, this means having a website or mobile app that doesn’t just “do the job” — it has to be exceptional. Personalization technology should be front and center to make browsing and purchasing easy; returning products should be straightforward; and an ecommerce platform should appeal to those who are less tech-savvy as well, through its simplicity and overall emphasis on a pleasant and intuitive experience. It is a multifaceted challenge, but all of these requirements will need to be met if success is to be maximized.
Physical stores remain important, but we expect many brands to re-evaluate the space they have, especially given that there is less of a requirement now to hold large amounts of stock on-site. Instead, many brands’ stores will become more of a showroom where customers can go and see products and have an experience, with the choice to then purchase online at a time that suits them. It is this effective omnichannel blend that will yield the most success.
New Technologies Will Drive Success
Tech has been more crucial than ever in the retail sector this year, but we expect its role to expand even more in 2021. Personalization tech — such as intelligent guided selling, chatbots and other online tools — will become more sophisticated as organizations take steps to make experiences smoother for consumers of all ages and backgrounds.
Other measures to make the customer experience more engaging will also figure prominently. These will include faster checkout processes, tailored cross-selling, voice ordering and video content designed to stimulate customers — like virtual gym classes or cooking lessons.
Essentially, this innovation is about giving customers the inspiration they’re lacking because there are fewer reasons to visit physical stores: prior to the pandemic, visiting a store meant consumers could see, feel and try products for themselves, which was hugely beneficial in helping them make the right buying choices. If a brand can really fire the imaginations of prospective customers in an online environment, it is important that they provide something different, something more experiential. This is ultimately what will put them on a path to do well in 2021.
A Bright Future for Those Willing to Evolve
A silver lining to the cloud of 2020 has been that many consumers who were previously unfamiliar with using technology for shopping, entertainment or staying in touch with family are now much more comfortable with it. As a brand, it is essential to capitalize on this momentum, and to both invest further and innovate in your digital platforms if you want to be successful in 2021. If you don’t, you risk being left behind by more agile and innovative competitors.
Brad Christian is Global Chief Customer Officer at Conversity. He joined Conversity with 25 years of retail experience, getting his initial start working in stores, providing products and services to retailers or consulting with brands to optimize their delivery of the best possible customer experience. Christian’s area of expertise includes cultivating strategic direction based on clients’ current and future desired outcomes, and developing and leading high performing sales and service teams that ensure clients maximize their investments with Conversity to achieve those results.