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 behaviour as shoppers embrace the convenience and security of e-commerce more readily. This is according to retail technology expert Conversity, which has released its predictions for the sector for 2021.
Consumer behaviour has changed for good
Brad Christian, Global Chief Customer Officer at Conversity, said: “Before the pandemic even struck, consumers were leaving their homes less often to make purchases for reasons of convenience – 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 bricks-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
Christian added: “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 e-commerce side, this means having a website or mobile app that doesn’t just “do the job” – it has to be exceptional. Personalisation technology should be front-and-centre to make browsing and purchasing easy, returning products should be straightforward, and an e-commerce platform should appeal to those who are less tech-savvy as well.
“Physical stores remain important, but we expect many brands to re-evaluate the space they have, especially given 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. It is this effective omnichannel blend that will yield the most success.”
New technologies will drive success
Christian continued: “Tech has been more crucial than ever in the retail sector this year, but we expect its role to expand even more in 2021. Personalisation tech – such as intelligent guided selling, chatbots and other online tools – will become more sophisticated.
Other measures to make the customer experience more engaging will also figure prominently, including faster checkout processes, tailored cross-selling, voice ordering, and video content designed to stimulate customers – like virtual gym classes or cooking lessons. Essentially, the innovation is about giving customers the inspiration they’re lacking because there are fewer reasons to visit physical stores: if a brand can really fire the imaginations of prospective customers, they will provide something different, something more experiential and put themselves on a path to do well in 2021.”
Christian concluded: “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 more comfortable with it. As a brand, it is essential to capitalise on this momentum and 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.”