The retail industry has been unpredictable for some time now and as a result of the pandemic has been forced to undertake huge operational changes for businesses within this sector – large or small, consumer-facing or behind the scenes.
In 2021 we can expect any changes within the retail industry to be proactive, rather than reactive as we saw in 2020 when retail organisations were challenged with adapting to remain competitive during the pandemic.
The following retail trends are expected to emerge or gain momentum in 2021.
Digital & Online Retail Trends
Digital and online retail have never been more important, with physical retailers in the U.K. having to close their doors frequently in line with changing Government restrictions to combat rising Covid-19 infection rates.
Autonomous Fulfilment & Drone Delivery
The huge increase in online orders for retailers who operate online has put a massive strain on delivery processes, which were once fit for the level of demand but have, in the past year, been stretched almost to their limits.
This has led to greater research and development into technology that can automate the packing and delivery process and reduce the pressure put on warehouse workers or delivery drivers.
One of the main benefits of shopping in-store for most consumers is the ability to walk away with a product on the same day, however, with most online retailers, customers sometimes have to wait up to five working days to receive their order.
The adoption of technology such as drone delivery and delivery robots will mean that more retailers can realistically offer same-day delivery as a service.
This is a huge leap forward from the traditional teleshopping TV channels that spring to mind when you think about ordering something from your TV.
Gone are the days when you’d have to call an operator and place your order over the phone with your card details, now advertisements will increasingly be designed to display QR codes to audiences which direct users straight to a page they can buy the product being advertised from.
The reason this trend is effective is that it simplifies the entire buying process – cutting out the stage where audiences would have to search for the product online themselves.
Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok are set to capitalise on the inherent strengths of their platforms for brands to showcase their products on, offering greater in-app shopping functionality.
These apps also offer retailers the ability to gain an incredibly in-depth understanding of their consumer base as they can precisely identify the likes, dislikes, interests and browsing habits of not only their current customers but their target market.
Instagram users will have already noticed changes to the app (including a new shopping tab that allows them to build wishlists and buy products via the app) and we can expect more updates that shift the platform towards supporting e-commerce.
More AR-Powered Shopping Experiences
With person-to-person contact to be kept to an absolute minimum in 2021 whilst we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, more retailers will look to Augmented Reality technology to give their customers an authentic shopping experience. Using AR, retailers can allow a customer to see what the product they’re buying looks like in their home.
Luxury brands such as Gucci have added AR features to their apps to let users see how the shoes they’re thinking of buying will look on them in real life.
However, it’s not just luxury retailers investing in this emerging technology. The ASOS shopping app allows customers to view a virtual catwalk so they can see the products they’re interested in up close, in a much more immersive way.
This retail trend is expected to revolutionise the customer experience at a time when in-store contact is restricted and customers are unable to try on clothes, shoes and accessories in real life.
Increased Use of Chatbots
The use of chatbots on retail websites isn’t an emerging trend but it is one expected to grow over the next 12 months.
With most customer service teams still unable to make a complete return to contact centres due to social distancing rules and increased demand for customer support as a result of the huge amount of online orders being placed each day, we can expect even more retailers to utilise this technology on their websites.
Other benefits of chatbots include shorter wait times for customers and 24-hour availability.
Offline Retail Trends
Brick and mortar retail took a big hit last year, with well-established retailers such as Debenhams having to close their doors for good at the end of 2020.
Personal Shopping at Scale
Personal shopping is a retail trend expected to have a resurgence in 2021 and the following years for two main reasons.
The first of these reasons is that offline retailers have been forced to limit the number of customers they have in-store at any given time to ensure social distancing guidelines can be followed
Because of the reduced number of customers to serve at once, some retailers are now able to offer a much more personal shopping experience.
The second reason is that offline retailers must compete with the increasing level of personalisation available online.
When we shop online, our browsing and buying habits are analysed automatically alongside other data relating to us, so that retailers can recommend the products we are most likely to want or need.
This level of personalisation is scarcely available in offline retail shops at the moment, but that is set to change in 2021.
Offline retailers are set to roll out similar technology to recommendation engines in-store, giving shop assistants access to information about ourselves and our previous purchases so that they can make more informed and accurate recommendations for products based on the information provided.
The personalisation of the retail customer experience at a mass scale is a trend that was previously only attainable for luxury products or retailers selling high ticket items due to the time and resource-consuming nature of it, but in 2021 we can expect technology to assist a wider range of retailers in achieving greater personalisation.
Technologically Enhanced Experiential Retail
Experiential retail enhanced by technology is a trend set to gain even more momentum in 2021.
Again to make the offline retail experience more appealing and competitive in comparison to online retail, some offline stores will invest further in creating exciting, memorable shopping experiences with high social media content value.
Nike’s Times Square flagship store has a basketball court surrounded by cameras where customers can visit and have their shots recorded as well as treadmills with cameras that analyse the customer’s running style so that a retail assistant can recommend the best running shoes.
Another example of this is Canada Goose’s arctic room which has the technology to reduce the temperature of the room to almost -30 ℃ so that customers can test their jackets in Arctic conditions.
The likes of Amazon and Apple were the first to trial and begin rolling out shops with no cashiers, with Amazon starting to sell its cashier-less technology to other retailers in March 2020.
The technology is called “Just Walk Out’ and works using a combination of sensors, cameras and deep learning to allow customers to walk into a shop, select the items they want to buy and leave again without having to wait in a queue.
Shoppers enter the store using the credit or debit card then Amazons finely tuned technology simply tracks the items they pick up off the shelves and tracks them in a virtual cart, upon leaving the store their credit cards are then charged.
This is an exciting trend set to gain more popularity in 2021 and the following years, especially with the opportunities it brings for better social distancing, reduced wait times for customers and more accurate stock level management.
In 2021 and the years following it, many more retailers will begin automating in-store processes to save time and money and decrease the likelihood of mistakes being made.
Some examples of processes that will become automated in more cases than not include:
- Automated stock reordering when levels reach a low point
- Automatic stock level updates to e-commerce websites when a product is bought in-store
- Automatic prompts for cashiers to check customer’s ID when trying to purchase age-restricted items
- Automated payroll management
Automation is a technology trend that almost every industry is taking advantage of and the retail sector this year will be no exception.
Completely Digital Retail Ecosystems
For physical retailers, there’s a host of technology which work alone as separate moving parts to ensure the business runs smoothly, such as POS systems, payment processors, accounting software, employee management systems, CRM software and more.
In the future, we can expect to see these separate in-store retail tools adapt to be able to communicate with each other and create a digital retail ecosystem.
This helps to streamline business operations and can save managers time on tedious tasks like data entry as this is completed digitally.
Retail Supply Chain Trends
2021 will see the supply chain industry transition towards layered technologies. This means it will no longer treat technology as a secondary service used to complete smaller or less important tasks, but as an integral element of the supply-chain industry.
In the future, various technologies will be adopted to revolutionise the sector and overcome long-standing barriers, the technologies leading the way are listed below.
Inventory management procedures are likely to become automated in most cases with the help of IoT. Connected devices can be integrated into warehouses or stock loading facilities to provide managers with accurate, real-time information on the exact levels of inventory available at any given time.
Research and development into autonomous trucking technology have been gaining momentum for years now and the delivery looks promising. The benefits of this technology for supply chain management is clear, guidelines that limit how long a human driver can operate a vehicle can be bypassed, more stock can be transported due to increased truck space and transportation can take place safely at any time of the day.
Another key reason that this technology trend is gaining further interest is the lack of human contact involved with autonomous delivery which brings huge safety benefits in our continued battle against Covid-19.
In 2021, more of the retail sector will use blockchain technology to increase visibility and make improvements to the overall supply chain. In simple terms, blockchain technology refers to a digital list of transaction records which cannot be altered once the data is entered, the way the transactions are recorded makes malicious hacking practically impossible.
With blockchain, each party involved in a supply chain can access data securely, from the beginning to the end, improving transparency, payment speed and security compared to older financial systems.
Smart contracts are digital transaction protocols that trigger a certain action when specific criteria have been met. In the retail supply chain, this is likely to come in the form of automatic invoicing when a product shipment has been confirmed to have reached its destination.
Smart contracts will make financial transactions much more efficient and reduce the risk of errors or delays.
AI and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are two emerging technologies set to bring advancements to retail supply chains, helping to learn and automate procedures previously carried out by humans who are more likely to make mistakes and dislike repetitive tasks.
This frees up a large portion of workers time, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks.
As outlined throughout this blog, there are various challenges and opportunities within the retail industry that can be overcome or fulfilled with the application of modern technology.
So if you have an idea for an app or software project that could revolutionise the sector, get in touch with us so we can help you to make it into a reality.