A Positive Twist: 2020 Retailing Trends That Will Have Staying Power in 2021

While new trends were plentiful throughout 2020, four stood out that will last beyond the pandemic. While each are in varying stages of maturity, I expect they will grow and evolve in 2021.  

2020 e-commerce sales accelerated as the physical store found itself in a precarious position as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on shopping. While new trends were plentiful, four stood out as ones that will last beyond the pandemic. While each are in varying stages of maturity, I expect they will grow and evolve in 2021.  

These trends made the shoppers life easy, saving them time and providing more choices along their shopping journey. They also gave the retailer alternative ways to service the shoppers. Most will become mandatory capabilities that last beyond the pandemic, showing us once again that there can be some silver linings, even during the most challenging times.     

1Curbside pickup takes convenience to another level 

Pre-pandemic, curbside pickup was mostly known in the grocery category and was also available at a handful of retailers like Target and The Container Store. COVID-19 forced retailers’ hands as curbside became a survival mechanism for neighborhood retailers and industry behemoths alike. Retailers perfected their communications processes, including messaging shoppers via email and text, providing complete information about when they might be notified of orders ready to be picked up. Most importantly, the best had clear instructions about where and how to pick up their purchases with links to contact the retailer and store hours. A handful also allowed for alternative individuals to pick up the order which comes in handy for shoppers. Some retailers also elevated their service levels. Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, enabled the ability to pick up purchases within the hour with signage and real estate dedicated to support this capability. During the holiday season, whenever I drove by one of their stores I noted many shoppers collecting their purchases curbside.  

Shoppers may now find themselves asking why they would ever go into the store again. No matter the category, from arts and crafts to home furnishings and beauty, the curbside pickup option is here to stay. With delivery as challenging as it was over the holidays, there were more reasons than ever to love curbside. Ultimately, the time-savings and efficiency play right into the hand of the shopper. 

2Same-day delivery sees broader appeal 

Same-day delivery can be a differentiator, but it’s not always about truly needing the product now. Even an impulse buy can become a “nice to have now” type of purchase as, when shopping, instant gratification is always in favor. 

I have been in the market for a new mini-oven for years but today was the day. I did some looking at reviews and studied all the options. Availability ultimately led to my purchase decision as prices were consistent across the board. Amazon was temporarily out of stock, Best Buy was a week out for delivery and Abt, a local powerhouse in my area, offered same-day delivery and my new oven could be on my doorstep today – and free shipping sealed the deal. All these factors combine to serve as differentiators for retailers as they convince shoppers to convert “now” for delivery today. 

Taking it one step further, Target is promoting their same-day delivery prowess. Buyers will be able to have purchases delivered by Shipt within just a few hours. Target is bullish on this service —they offer a free trial for 4 weeks—and the customer retention possibilities are of great value. Target offers an annual membership at $99, on par with Amazon Prime, with orders of $35 or more. Alternatively, one can pay $9.99 per order, which is reasonable for such an on-demand service. We expect more retailers will follow suit using Instacart and meal delivery service models to make this a lasting trend.

3-“Text me” gains traction in shopping

Texting is routine for most people and retailers are making extra efforts to reach shoppers via their mobile devices. It has always been standard to gather emails from customers and often retailers incentivize consumers to share this information. When shopping on Best Buy, they have taken it one step further, encouraging shoppers to share their mobile number and opt in to receive text messages. Going where the customers are is more important than ever, as getting their attention is challenging amidst all the noise. This two-fisted approach may just pay off.    

Crate and Barrel takes on texting from both a service and a promotional perspective.  Customer service is accessible via chat, phone and text with choice based on shopper preference.

The power of the image inspires shoppers and sets the tone for a more exciting shopping experience. While text may get your attention, it is hard to not look at this well-designed visual SMS experience. This type of marketing has a real opportunity to drive impulse purchasing among shoppers. Just as email evolved and the customer experience was elevated, we can certainly expect opportunities to see creativity in play on our mobile devices in 2021 and beyond.

4Virtual concierge service are vital connections to the store 

The need for service never changed when the pandemic hit and, if anything, the desire to connect became greater for many of us. Retailers responded by adding virtual tools to their shopping offerings. For Nordstrom that meant the ability to meet with a virtual stylist. Appointments were available and segmented by gender and category including apparel, gifting, beauty, and even bra fitting. Tailoring these to the unique needs of each segment ensured that trained associates would service the customer. 

Customized tools were developed to address category concerns. I tested out the apparel styling. Upon sharing some of my brand interests, budget and current needs, I received a “style board.” I could collaborate with my stylist and she was able to make edits and share recommendations with the option to purchase directly from that link. From simple needs such as selecting the right size to more complex home decorating needs and gift recommendations, virtual services are primed for growth.  

Another excellent example comes from Kay Jeweler. Many of us are challenged when gift giving and a little help can go a long way. I tested Kay’s virtual assistant when shopping over the holidays. My daughter had on her wish list a new ring and I needed help with size and styles that would be appropriate for a teenager. The stylist asked me the standard questions along with what jewelry my daughter currently owned and directed me to several perfect options. The best part of the experience was that she called me from her mobile number and welcomed me to reach out with further questions.

Innovation drives changes that last

Innovation drove retailers to deliver solutions that kept shoppers buying through these challenging times. From inspiring them via SMS promotions to logistics that ensured convenient pickup options, innovative retailers were ready. They took the concept of virtual to the next level connecting with buyers to assist in making the right purchase. They also understand that the notion of fast may have accelerated even further, with same-day delivery moving beyond the grocery market. 

One thing I’m confident about in 2021 is that these capabilities are here to stay. Amidst this pandemic, a little consistency coupled with a whole lot of creativity and competence among retailers will go a long way to satisfying shoppers. 

Shoppers look forward to connecting in all your available channels this year!

Lauren Freedman is President of the e-tailing group

Disclaimer: Laws applicable to you may restrict or prohibit certain communications by text message. You are urged to consult with your individual advisors with respect to any information presented.

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