Predictions: 5 trends that will shape the retail sector in 2021

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

In 2021, the retail sector will see:

Making predictions during a global pandemic feels a little like trying to predict the winning lottery numbers. But then again, at Qudini we have our ear pretty close to the ground (or shop floor), so we thought it might be worth sharing some of the emerging trends that we’ve noticed across our network of enterprise retailers.

It should go without saying that the 2021 retail landscape will be one that rewards innovation, efficiency and agility – three traits that retail leaders have done a brilliant job at embracing throughout the pandemic – but this year we will see leading retailers use their newly acquired tools and skillsets to take their offerings to the next level.

Here are some of the trends that will dominate the 2021 retail landscape:

1) Retailers will truly own their omni-channel offerings

Omni-channel is something retail leaders have been advocating for years now, and while many brands have made great strides to improve their offerings, consumers are still left wanting more.

Too often there is a sharp disconnect between in-store retail, e-commerce and customer support functions – but during Covid-19, many retailers have learnt the errors of this approach the hard way and have been rushing to make things right.

In the last few months there has been a sharp increase in the number of retailers implementing omni-channel offerings that help to fill this gap, like allowing customers to book virtual appointments with store associates from the comfort and safety of their own homes, or the ability to collect items they’ve bought online from the store car park.

This year we will see this trend expand even more as retailers create powerful customer journeys that span across online and in-store realms.

Read: Leading retailers that have expanded their curbside collection process

2) Consumers will want in-store experiences again

Before the pandemic took precedence, many leading retailers were focussed on creating powerful in-store journeys – they type that were so engaging that they compelled customers to stay in-store for longer and truly experience the brand and all that it stands for.

Now stores are operating as customer fulfilment hubs. The best customer journeys are quick, contactless and and streamlined, and many brands are investing in tools such as in-store mobile payments and curbside collection.

This year a balance will be made between those consumers who want fast, contactless experiences and those who want to learn more about the brand or have unique and engaging experiences. While the pandemic will continue to be a dominating factor, we can see a number of retailers across the world have already reshaped their customer journeys to make them more engaging and interactive while adhering to social distancing measures.

3) All age groups will continue to embrace digital innovation

With the pandemic causing shops to close for months on end,  digital innovation has skyrocketed and many brands have advanced their roadmaps significantly to improve their digital services. As a recent McKinsey report so adequately put it, we have covered a decade in days in our adoption of digital.

As a result, digital adoption is no longer just for the young and tech-savvy – Covid-19 has stirred consumers from all age groups to adopt new technology and embrace new customer journeys.

In our US survey of 2,000 consumers, we found that Baby Boomer consumers had a strong interest in new technology, such as using virtual wait lines to enter stores or booking appointments for service. In fact, it was on par with younger generations, and sometimes greater.

Going forward, we will see smart retailers look to encourage this digital adoption across all age groups and find ways to appeal to consumers after the pandemic.

4) Appointment scheduling will continue to grow

As we all discovered throughout 2020, consumers love being able to book visits for in-store services in advance, and there’s a strong demand for online service, too.

Qudini’s recent survey of 2,000 consumers found that before the pandemic, 34% of consumers were interested in booking appointments for in-store services. During Covid, this has gone up to 40%. However, the same survey found that 45% of consumers are interested in virtual services.

Many retailers have been quick to realize this surge in demand and have been offering everything from virtual shopping experiences, to one-to-one online appointments with store associates, to live-streaming in stores.

In fact, a well-known jewelry retailer that we work with said that by offering virtual appointments, they were able to tap into a new audience altogether – male shoppers. The ability to secure in-store expertise for jewelry recommendations and support was obviously something that appealed to male shoppers during the holiday period.

5) Smaller and more localized store formats will pop up

Up until recently, big brands have owned big stores on well-known streets, but many leading retailers have been shifting to smaller, more agile store formats that allow them to create more personalized shopping experiences.

Nike Live store in Oregon. Copyright: Nike – published by Retail Dive

And in the wake of Covid-19, where consumers aren’t travelling in to urban areas as often (or ever), brands are restructuring their store portfolios to be more localized.

Athletics retail giant, Nike, has just opened a new small-format Nike Live store in Eugene, Oregon, as the brand continues to expand its DTC strategy. This is one of four Nike Live concepts – the others are in LA, Tokyo and New York. Another brilliant example comes from Bloomingdales “Bloomies” concept, which is opening in Virginia in the fall. “‘Bloomie’s’ is Bloomingdale’s new store concept which brings the energy, discovery, and fun of Bloomingdale’s to a smaller, highly edited and service-driven location,” a Bloomingdale’s spokesperson said.

We’re excited to be helping so many companies such as Nike, Levi’s, Burberry, Swarovski, Pandora, Bass Pro and Meijer Pharmacy to expand their digital and in-store offerings during these challenging time with our Retail Choreography solutions. For more information about how virtual wait line management and appointment scheduling software can help your business to succeed during 2021, contact for a demo or discussion.


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