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Retail Trends to Watch in 2021

Retail Trend #1: Social Commerce

This year’s surge in online shopping is here to stay, especially given the hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of brick-and-mortar stores. According to a recent study, in 2020, nearly 41% of customers said they were currently shopping online for things they would normally buy in-store.

Social commerce — native shopping experiences on a social media platform — offers shoppers an even more seamless way to shop online. Instead of clicking through to a third-party website, users can make purchases right from the social media app or site.

And social commerce is on the rise.

Retail Trend #2: Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing used to be all about selfies, carefully-constructed captions, and heavily-edited product shots. But in 2020, we’ve seen a major shift in the way brands and influencers work together. Influencer content has slowly transitioned to a raw, real aesthetic, and this change will continue into 2021.

Audiences put trust in brands that showcase authentic voices, and today’s savvy users can spot an overly-produced ad from a mile away. Brands that don’t prioritize authenticity in their influencer partnerships can wave goodbye to high engagement and ROI next year. It’s time to focus on unique influencer content that prioritizes education, entertainment, and the viewer experience.

Overall, brands will need authentic video content to keep their influencer campaigns engaging in 2021.

Retail Trend #3: Online Stores in Offline Spaces

Many digital natives, direct-to-consumer brands like Bonobos, Glossier, Casper, and Warby Parker started online, but have since launched and expanded their physical presence over the past few years. Most of the digital brands opening stores sell apparel, which makes sense; it’s a category where shoppers benefit from interacting with the product in person.

Last year, real estate experts predicted that digitally native brands would open 850 brick-and-mortar stores in the next 5 years, with New York being the most popular destination. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly slowed the openings of new brick-and-mortar stores, we’re still seeing offline experiences from previously online-only brands and will continue to in 2021.

Take the opening of the first brick-and-mortar Amazon Fresh Grocery Store in September, for example. The Amazon Fresh grocery store is a new grocery store designed from the ground up to offer a seamless grocery shopping experience, whether customers are shopping in-store or online.

Retail Trend #4: Even More AR-Powered Shopping Experiences

Augmented reality (AR), machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) are here to stay. Reality is the top technologies they’re seeking to assist them in their daily lives, with 51% saying they would be willing to use AR technology to assess products.

And while AR in retail isn’t new, it’s gone from a nice-to-have to an essential part of retailers’ eCommerce offerings.

As so many shoppers continue to rely on online shopping during the pandemic, retailers leverage AR technology to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical. In fact, IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index reports that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years.

While brands like IKEA, Home Depot, and Target all have proprietary AR shopping experiences, AR-powered commerce isn’t just for mega-brands.

Retail Trend #5: Creative Brand Identities

Building brand equity can be a challenge. But strong brand identity is crucial for connecting with shoppers and establishing trust.

Retail Trend #6: Ethical and Values-Based Brands on the Rise

Transparency, values, and ethics have never been more important to shoppers — which means brands need to prioritize them ASAP.

71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values. Shoppers are increasingly evaluating products and brands based on a company’s ethics and values, with 41% of US consumers actively seeking to buy from a company associated with social, environmental, and political ideals.

For brands, this shift to values-based consumers means that brands who are traditionally less forthcoming will no longer be able to get away with hiding any sketchy business practices or environmentally-unfriendly operations.

Offering genuine transparency and taking a stance on ethical issues can be risky for brands, but when done right, it can build lasting customer loyalty and trust.

Retail Trend #7: Same-Day (or Faster) Delivery

Age of instant gratification, shoppers want their orders ASAP. And same-day, store-fulfilled orders are seeing more traction from customers and brands alike. 88% of consumers are willing to pay for same-day or faster delivery.

While same-day shipping is far from a new concept — in 2018, 51% of eCommerce retailers already offered same-day delivery — we’re likely to see it become the norm and beyond as order fulfillment technology and standards evolve in 2021.

Retail Trend #8: Increase in Smart Speaker Shopping

As we move into 2021, we can expect to see more consumers online shopping without ever having to look at a screen. Brands can leverage smart speaker and voice search technology. Here’s why: When a voice assistant provides an answer, it also allows users to open the website where the answer was found. For brands that prioritize voice-optimized SEO, this could mean a boost in traffic.

Retail Trend #9: Increased Use of Chatbots

The retail industry was already using this technology prior to the pandemic, along with the banking and healthcare sectors. In fact, chatbots are projected to save these industries over $11 billion by 2023.

It’s also important to note that chatbots can go above and beyond recreating in-person experiences — they can create fun, new experiences unique to the digital space. They also pushed alerts and prompts on the chatbot prior to the event, which drove engagement.

Retail Trend #10: Successful retailers become experiential

For companies maintaining physical locations, it’ll be key to distinguish themselves from online retailers by providing unique in-store experiences. Though the reality is that brick-and-mortar stores will sell less, they have the opportunity to provide value by strengthening customers’ relationships with the brand. Immersive, Instagrammable experiences, aka “retailtainment,” can bring the brand alive in a way that digital means can’t.

There’s no mistake that retail will continue to shift to the virtual space, but that doesn’t mean the physical space won’t remain an important one. If used correctly, it can complement its online counterpart to bring a brand to life and give it an edge against competitors.

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