2020 has become one of the most influential years in history, affecting everything from our lifestyle choices to businesses of all sizes. After hurdling the challenges of this past year, retailers are asking themselves what comes next. The use of technology in retail has boomed in 2020 as businesses desperately search for new ways to connect with customers. From delivery to curbside pickup and e-commerce, many consumers have adopted new shopping behaviors and are expected to continue these patterns in the future. This blog considers the biggest successes in retail innovation in 2020 and predicts what retail trends to watch for in 2021.
Accelerated Demand for Retail Delivery Services
One retail trend that will undoubtedly continue well into 2021 is delivery. With the onset of the pandemic, delivery orders have more than doubled in the retail industry. The accelerated demand for delivery in retail sectors brought struggles for businesses who couldn’t keep up with the quickly changing environment. As traditional delivery serves are stretched thin, retailers have started taking advantage of third-party delivery services that rely on gig economy workers.
Self-driving delivery vehicles and drone delivery have become a popular option for customers living in large cities. Many states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Missouri, and Colorado, are starting to pass laws to accommodate these self-driving delivery vehicles. Some regulations for these operations include ensuring the vehicles don’t exceed the speed limit, block sidewalks, and are protected from vandalism.
Delivery is becoming easier as many companies start to work with Amazon and Google to incorporate their e-commerce and AI efforts. Consumers can use AI on their home devices to place delivery orders or restock/reorder items on an automatic, scheduled basis.
Increased Personalization Online
With such a heavy reliance on e-commerce and online shopping, many brands have started trying to create unique and personalized virtual experiences their customers will remember. Many e-commerce stores have put chatbots and virtual assistants in place on their websites to appropriately reroute customers and act as a cheaper customer service option. As it offers convenience to both the retailer and customer, this retail trend is sure to be popular in the new year.
In addition to chatbots, many stores that offer high-end purchases like jewelry, cars, and furniture, have started providing video chat options to speak with employees and specialists. This allows shoppers to get information on specs and features from the source, along with virtual demos.
Another major addition to e-commerce has been the use of recommendation engines, which are used to create mass-personalization. These engines are used on e-commerce sites to point shoppers toward products that are often bought together or to products related to past purchases. The engines can also collect personal data and attach them to your personal account to be used by sales staff in-store. When utilizing this technology, businesses can often reduce their marketing costs by 20%, according to analysts at McKinsey, as they can create better-targeted marketing campaigns.
Artificial intelligence is another retail industry trend that is sure to pick up speed in 2021. Advancement in AI and voice recognition technology adds value both in-store and online, with capabilities like setting reminders to reorder a product. This increases the chance of repeat sales and strengthens customer loyalty.
Transformation of Physical Retail Store Location
Stores are looking for ways to incorporate their online shopping with in-store visits. For instance, shoppers can see in-store purchases on their app for reordering at home or use their app when shopping to be reminded of items they may have viewed when browsing in-store.
2020 has proved that the physical storefront is no longer the final destination in the purchase journey. Stores are already creating hybrid stores using technology and apps to create a more engaging and socially distanced shopping experience, including contactless checkout, prominent digital signage, and other innovations. These retail trends may result in scheduling shopping visits by appointment. Further, augmented and virtual reality is becoming significant players in the retail industry.
Replacement of Storefronts with Fulfillment Hubs
Storefronts are underperforming due to heavy e-commerce focused shopping behavior, so much so that retailers are looking to convert them into fulfillment hubs. Also referred to as “dark stores,” these fulfillment hubs act as mini distribution centers for eCommerce sales. While this isn’t a new idea, it has become a popular retail trend to look for in 2021, with Whole Foods recently converting stores in Los Angeles and New York to dark stores. Other grocery chains like Kroger and Giant Eagle have temporarily moved some locations to dark stores as well, with plans for some locations to stay that way.
This trend makes it easier and faster to get online orders and deliveries to customers; even before the pandemic, the percentage of U.S. adults who had tried and liked grocery delivery was 12%, a 50% jump from 2019. Most retailers had been planning for 30% annual growth for e-grocery, which accounts for 6% of the total U.S. Businesses like Amazon and Apple are already working to utilize abandoned storefronts for this fulfillment model.
Rising of Alternative Business Models
With the fundamental changes to traditional retail sales in the past year, a sure-fire retail industry trend for 2021 will be the rise of alternative business models. One example that has been gaining popularity are subscription boxes, which allow businesses to access repeat business to busy consumers while gathering data to ensure those consumers enjoy their experience and continue to utilize their subscription/purchases.
A growing array of brands are starting to make products available on a subscription basis, blurring the lines between rentals, sales, and subscriptions. Businesses utilize these models to help consumers break down payments and provide them with a way to get a hold of items before an additional purchase. Many clothing subscription boxes allow you to try on items, purchase those you enjoy most, and send back the remaining.
Even Apple has taken on rental/subscriptions; Apple sells its gear and allows consumers to break up purchases into monthly allotments, making large sales more palatable. Retailers such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, Eileen Fisher, Walmart, and Patagonia are now adopting these same methods for clothing, tools, and more.
While it seems like a state of normalcy may be on the horizon for 2021, these trends will surely continue to rise. If you’re ready to work with an industry leader who can keep your operations on top of the biggest trends, it’s time you invested in innovative retail POS software solutions.
The General Store offers the best in breed software and hardware solutions, providing e-commerce integrations with leading providers such as WooCommerce and Nitrosell, as well as payments facilitation with leading payment processors. Our all-in-one solution is designed to meet all your point of sale needs in-store and online.
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