- Retail in 2021: What will endure and what’s going to change?
- Direct-to-consumer brands flexing partnership muscles and exploring models to differentiate from the pack will see disruptive growth and profitability
- Supply chain’s transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic, leveraged by 5G and underpinned by substantial investments in digital solutions. Good news: There’s no stopping the momentum now
- Livestreaming will take center stage in 2021, with the potential to be one of the fastest-growing categories in the digital one-to-one ecosystem
- Adoption of robotics technology, food delivery robots and autonomous vehicles are no longer considered a novelty, but it’s still shy of primetime status: Experimentation needs to accelerate, and costs need to come down
- “Evolution” is the word for shopping malls. Shoppers will return after the pandemic, but malls need to be reimagined from multi-level boxes anchored by department stores to more enticing, smaller environments in sync with consumers’ needs
- Touch-free technology will become mainstream
- Social commerce has the potential to grow faster than overall ecommerce — proving once again that, while consumers may not be meeting up in person, socially driven commerce is uniquely embedded in their DNA
- On-demand manufacturing is poised to have its day in the sun
- Digital transformation defined 2020, but that was just the jumping off point for what’s to come
- Paying for a purchase in one fell swoop is so 2018 — shoppers want options every step of the way
- And, just in case 10 predictions for 2021 are not quite enough, here one more to consider: The death of third-party cookies will be a good thing for marketers, but no one expects the changing environment to yield positive outcomes quickly
- 2021 Could Be Even Worse for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Than 2020
- 10,000 stores closing up shop
- Not everyone will lose
- 2021 Brick and Mortar Forecast – brick and mortar
- Right-size Every Detail
- Humanize the store experience
Retail in 2021: What will endure and what’s going to change?
The United States will have a new president in the White House. “The Matrix 4” will hit the big screen, Tokyo hopes to host the Olympic Games and sales of CBD products will continue to climb. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are feeling bullish about the stock market in 2021 and conversations about vaccines are more than ly to reach a fevered pitch.
Unfortunately, the U.S. can also expect the long tail impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to be felt in the retail industry for months to come.
Learn more about the innovations and trends of retail for 2021 here.
As the nation collectively learned in 2020, it’s impossible to truly see what lies over the horizon. Nothing can topple predictions a mysterious virus that brings the world to a virtual standstill for months.
A year ago, NRF predicted tumultuous change in retail supply chains, a voracious appetite for resale and recommerce, and “blurred lines” in retail as companies worked to develop innovative ways to servicing and supporting the customer journey.
The biggest takeaway from 2020 is the shift to ecommerce; consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor and retailers have responded with the speedy roll new technologies.
We got those right. Still, every other prognosticator, we had no clue of the looming pandemic or its disruptive effects.
The biggest takeaway from 2020 is the shift to ecommerce; consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor and retailers have responded with the speedy roll new technologies, new apps and new ways of meeting shoppers’ needs. The words “contactless” and “frictionless” have quickly become part of the vernacular and companies that have managed to break the mold and adapt are winning.
What’s ahead for 2021? Here are 10 predictions — plus one for good measure — that are ly to shape the next 12 months.
Direct-to-consumer brands flexing partnership muscles and exploring models to differentiate from the pack will see disruptive growth and profitability
After a brief period of suspicion as to how these darlings would fair in the long term, it appears the DTC landscape presents plenty of possibilities. Nimble by nature, brands have introduced new categories (Allbirds, Casper) and are pouring new energy into perfecting their customer-obsession objectives (Stitch Fix, Glossier, Peloton).
DTC brands have introduced new categories and are pouring new energy into perfecting their customer-obsession objectives.
It appears the future is multichannel as brands such as Everlane and Birdies link up with Nordstrom, Headspace partners with Spotify, and wellness company Alo and beauty brand Tatcha team up in Animal Crossing. And lest you think there’s a dearth of new entrants, don’t forget CUUP, Prose and JUDY.
Supply chain’s transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic, leveraged by 5G and underpinned by substantial investments in digital solutions. Good news: There’s no stopping the momentum now
If the C-suite were not already convinced supply chain disruption could have serious repercussions, they got the message loud and clear courtesy of COVID-19.
The pandemic spawned a series of recalibrations throughout the global supply chain as retailers and manufacturers reexamined every step from procurement to sourcing and from reduced lead times to improved speed, resiliency and responsiveness.
Spending on global reverse logistics technologies will spike in 2021.
And those shifts will be ongoing over the next 12 to 18 months. Along with increased investments in all things related to logistics, expect more experimentation, particularly in dark stores, ghost kitchens, micro-fulfillment centers and malls masquerading as distribution centers.
Spending on global reverse logistics technologies will spike in 2021 — forecast last year to hit $604 billion by 2025 — as retailers seek to alleviate a major pain point in the shopping journey and minimize the costs of returns. The quest to build a more sustainable supply chain lost some steam in 2020, but the vision for a more sustainable future and a reduced carbon footprint remains a key objective.
Livestreaming will take center stage in 2021, with the potential to be one of the fastest-growing categories in the digital one-to-one ecosystem
Nothing beats the experience of shopping in person, yet livestreaming is the closest many retailers and brands have been able to come to physically connecting with their customers during the pandemic.
A growing number of brands are incorporating livestreaming into their strategy.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently reported that livestream-generated sales are expected to double to $120 billion worldwide in 2021. Experts say digital savvy shoppers want more than just a product; they want to feel a connection to a brand. Thus, a growing number of brands are incorporating livestreaming into their strategy.
Bon Appetit magazine’s Test Kitchen crew produced “The BA Test Kitchen Variety Show.” Estee Lauder hosted more than 1 million virtual try-on sessions globally in the first quarter and is also connecting with consumers through its Clinique Skin School with on-demand live streaming. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
Adoption of robotics technology, food delivery robots and autonomous vehicles are no longer considered a novelty, but it’s still shy of primetime status: Experimentation needs to accelerate, and costs need to come down
2020 was supposed to be a breakout year for robots in retail, perhaps even more so given the “hands-off” mindset that colored the past year. That wasn’t the case. Experiments and rollouts were sluggish as other projects took priority.
Still, the objectives remain firm: In-store robots must accurately, repeatedly and autonomously collect and process data to solve business problems. Drones still have the potential to make certain trips obsolete, conserve energy and contribute to more sustainable practices.
There are bright spots: Walmart is experimenting with driverless cars and flying drones; Walgreens has partnered with Wing and is testing drone deliveries in Virginia; Nuro’s autonomous vehicles are rolling across a handful of spots around the country; and robots are powering in-store inventory management and speeding fulfillment in distribution centers. Stay tuned.
Drones still have the potential to contribute to more sustainable practices.
“Evolution” is the word for shopping malls. Shoppers will return after the pandemic, but malls need to be reimagined from multi-level boxes anchored by department stores to more enticing, smaller environments in sync with consumers’ needs
Shopping malls became an industry-wide punching bag in 2020. Faced with a decline in foot traffic, operators are being called upon to convert empty commercial space into mini-fulfillment centers for their retail tenants. If only it were that easy.
Distressed malls appear to be an attractive target for companies such as Amazon and FedEx that are eying the empty spaces for micro-fulfillment. But flipping the model will require the properties to be rezoned and, in many instances, the shift from commercial to industrial is ly to be met with pushback from local residents.
Other ideas that have been floated to repurpose mall spaces include senior citizen housing, health care facilities and community colleges, but the same challenges persist. Another bitter pill to swallow: The shift toward experiential tenants that began in earnest just a few years ago is disappearing.
Touch-free technology will become mainstream
A tremendous amount of innovation during the pandemic was born of the need to reduce the frequency of touch. And shoppers have embraced the trend with gusto.
Digital shopping has soared, contactless payments have quickly become the norm, and augmented and virtual reality — technologies that have been dancing on the edge of more widespread acceptance for the last few years — are poised for growth.
Case in point: virtual fitting rooms. Using AR to facilitate virtual try-ons is proving to reduce return rates. Look for retailers to connect mirrors to social media — a move that will provide a more interactive personalized experience.
Using AR to facilitate virtual try-ons is proving to reduce return rates.
Shiseido is using hands-free technology (along with artificial intelligence and algorithms) to remotely analyze skin and offer personalized suggestions.
A Japanese company recently debuted the first-ever foot-operated vending machine allowing hands-free access.
And it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room: Amazon One, the new technology for its Amazon Go stores that lets shoppers pay for their groceries by scanning the palm of their hand. This one has enormous potential.
Social commerce has the potential to grow faster than overall ecommerce — proving once again that, while consumers may not be meeting up in person, socially driven commerce is uniquely embedded in their DNA
If asked to identify the indisputable breakout trend for 2021, no doubt it would be social commerce. The idea of retailers and brands creating shopping experiences via social media has certainly taken off.
Its staying power is undeniable for multiple reasons, including the exclusive feelings these opportunities create, the chance to build purchasing intent and the frictionless payment process that gives new meaning to the word “seamless.”
Technavio recently reported that the social commerce market is poised to grow by $2,051 billion during 2020-2024, progressing at a compound annual growth rate of almost 31 percent.
Who’s leading the charge? , Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, Pinterest and Spotify.
On-demand manufacturing lets brands respond faster to changing customer demand.
On-demand manufacturing is poised to have its day in the sun
For years, concepts mass customization and personalization have peppered predictions about the future of fashion. Now comes on-demand manufacturing. To be fair, it’s not new, but using on-demand strategies to create products lets brands respond faster to changing customer demand, create products as orders are placed and keep minimal amounts of stock on hand.
All of that meshes with the ethos of today’s shoppers. In addition, on-demand manufacturing improves sustainability and moves the needle closer to the goal of zero waste. It could even shift the pendulum a bit toward nearshore sourcing.
The challenge is good data and technology that allows companies to optimize that information. Zara is the poster retailer for on-demand manufacturing, but DTC brands are quickly learning the ropes.
Digital transformation defined 2020, but that was just the jumping off point for what’s to come
The last nine months alone have produced more digital transformation than the last decade.
Retailers, manufacturers and consumers a were forced to change and what appeared to be quick fixes in the early days have quickly become habits.
The surge in online shopping, the race toward frictionless payments, the quick deployment of curbside pickup and the endless flurry of apps created to enable all these changes are just the beginning.
What does this mean for 2021? Looking for ways to monetize customer data is table stakes for retailers; the challenge is doing so in a true omnichannel ecosystem. The companies that get it right will be omnipresent for shoppers — connecting online, in stores and over social commerce and making sure every touchpoint is frictionless.
A key enabler of all things digital is 5G. It may have been over-hyped a year ago, but 5G is vital as we rush headlong into 2021.
If remote work, nonstop video conferencing and stepped-up digital collaboration have taught us anything, it’s that reliable connectivity and greater bandwidth are imperative.
Consumers can’t afford to be disconnected, so it goes without saying that neither can businesses.
Paying for a purchase in one fell swoop is so 2018 — shoppers want options every step of the way
The old-fashioned model of paying for items in full is fading fast as the next generation of shoppers embraces pay-over-time models and subscriptions. What began as a novelty is now available online, in-app and in-store. And it won’t be the only creative method retailers come up with to keep shoppers shopping.
The next generation of shoppers is embracing pay-over-time models and subscriptions.
Look for more subscription payment options such as Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay to gain ground; these types of options are borne of digital media, a la steaming services and gaming, but retailers are looking to get in on the action.
Other potential game changers in the payment space include rental companies such as Feather and Fernish that give consumers the chance to rent a room of furniture and pay for it monthly. Then there’s the rent-buy model, which allows aspirational shoppers to rent designer pieces for a fraction of the full price and buy at a reduced cost.
Trade-ins are becoming a thing, too: Think Levi Strauss & Co. and Patagonia. Just don’t stop thinking of creative ways to extend payment options, because the 2021 shopper demands it.
And, just in case 10 predictions for 2021 are not quite enough, here one more to consider: The death of third-party cookies will be a good thing for marketers, but no one expects the changing environment to yield positive outcomes quickly
The rise of ecommerce, coupled with the elimination of cookies, has made data-rich “walled gardens” a priority, yet brands face new privacy regulations and compliance measures that require investments in customer data platforms. As retailers seek the next holy grail of targeting, look for those who have giant databases and/or partnerships to win.
2021 Could Be Even Worse for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Than 2020
A lot of brick-and-mortar retailers had a tough time in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to close their doors to customers. Those that adapted to the new environment with online ordering and curbside pickup did relatively well as consumers shifted to e-commerce since they couldn't (or wouldn't) go in stores.
But not everyone fared so well; 2020 saw 8,741 stores across the United States close their doors, according to data from Coresight Research. And it's going to get worse for a lot of retailers in 2021.
Image source: Getty Images.
10,000 stores closing up shop
Store closures actually declined in 2020 versus 2019. Retailers closed 9,832 stores in 2019 versus the 8,741 closed last year. Some retailers may have been able to stay open due to government programs providing additional funding and landlords offering rent reduction during the year. Others may have been holding out hope for a strong holiday sales rebound at the end of the year.
But those factors are now behind us, and many companies are faced with the tough reality that they'll need to close more doors. And fewer stores will open up in their place.
Just 3,300 stores opened in 2020, according to Coresight. That means the industry closed a net amount of 5,441 stores last year. That's up from 2019. Despite more store closures that year, retailers opened 4,689 new stores, for a net decrease of 5,143.
Retailers will ly open up more new stores in 2021 compared to last year, but not enough to offset the rise in closures. Coresight expects just 4,000 new stores this year, for a net loss of 6,000 for the full year, up 10% from 2020.
Not everyone will lose
Coresight CEO and founder Deborah Weinswig is actually optimistic for a bounce back in in-store retail sales this year, despite her expectation for increased net store closures. She thinks the vaccine rollout will help consumers get back to more shopping outings instead of ordering everything online. And that may be true for some retail segments, but not all.
Most notably, we should see a continuance of the trends we saw last year. Weinswig suggests the biggest losers last year, apparel retailers, will be the biggest losers this year as well.
40% of shoppers said they won't spend more on clothing in stores once they're vaccinated, according to a recent survey from First Insight.
And if we go into another lockdown, 61% said it'd be an area where they cut back on spending.
Meanwhile, those retailers that have fared well during the pandemic could see improvements in 2021. Coresight says the 4,000 new store openings will be driven largely by growth from grocery discounters and dollar store chains.
Some of the biggest winners will be those retailers that are adapting their stores to serve more online shopping. Big box retailers Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) stand out as innovators around using stores as fulfillment centers.
Target said 95% of its total sales during November and December were fulfilled by its stores, a greater percentage than pre-pandemic despite a shift to more digital sales.
Walmart is planning to use its store footprint and existing supply chain to build out more local fulfillment centers for online orders. In that way, the same trucks can supply both stores and fulfillment centers with the same number of routes. Its massive footprint has also been instrumental in its roll online grocery ordering.
Meanwhile, pure online retailers Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) should continue to gain market share of the overall retail industry. Amazon, in particular, is well positioned with the strength of its Prime membership program and as the premier destination for online product searches.
While we may be able to put the pandemic mostly behind us by the end of 2021, the retail trends we saw in 2020 look they're going to have a more permanent impact on brick-and-mortar retailers. The big retailers stand to get bigger and the smaller retailers will get smaller.
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2021 Brick and Mortar Forecast – brick and mortar
Lynn Gonsior, Partner & COO, talks to Connie Gentry for the cover story in Chain Store Age about the year ahead for brick and mortar retail.
Accelerated adoption. That’s how industry analysts describe 2020’s integration of brick-and-mortar with online sales. Multi-year plans to transition offline and online into an omnichannel presence came to fruition in a matter of months, a momentum born of necessity that effectively positioned retailers that ‘got it’ to enter 2021 poised for reinvention.
“Something positive coming COVID-19 is that retailers finally understand omnichannel is about functioning as one; you can’t think about the online business and physical store as two [entities],” said Lynn Gonsior, partner and COO of retail brand experience and design firm ChangeUp. “Retailers are thinking more holistically about the customer journey and how they have to deliver consistently across both online and offline.”
For years, the talk has been about giving consumers what they want, where they want it. That hasn’t changed. But what few saw coming was that the “where” might be curbside — a trend that speaks to the intrinsic value of having a brick-and-mortar foundation to support online sales.
“We’ve all had a lesson in improv during COVID,” Gonsior added. “There’s more of a mindset for experimentation, and more integration across channels. We’re seeing more retailers do a better job around curbside service.”
Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, noted that online sales were 18% of total retail sales in 2019, a measure that would typically increase about 1 point a year.
“At the peak of COVID closures this year, the online penetration went from 18% to 26%,” he said. “Since then there’s been a little bit of a ratchet factor so it tucked back to around 24 or 25%.
What that means is we’ve packed six years of growth in online penetration into six months elapsed time.
It’s a sea change; and now omnichannel is a must-have — it’s table stakes just to get in the game.”
With regard to 2021, Johnson said brick-and-mortar retailers must do three things: optimize online, gain a better understanding of their customers’ needs and preferences and “right-size their store fleets.”
“A lot of retailers were over capacity,” he said.
“They have too much retail square feet facing too few customer feet. And a lot of retailers, particularly apparel and department stores, have been in denial about being over capacity versus demand.”
Johnson’s advice: Unless you are expanding into a new geographic area, concentrate growth on the online side and increase productivity through an omnichannel hybrid.
“Look at Home Depot, they haven’t expanded in the U.S. in the last couple of years,” he said. “Their growth comes from increased productivity at its existing stores and migrating customers to online or that hybrid model [where customers buy online and pick-up at the store].”
What hasn’t changed is the real estate that is at greatest risk of failing: B and C malls around the country, populated with weak tenants and department stores that are struggling.
“The idea of a cookie-cutter format will go away this year. We need to be more flexible in how we think about what stores are, how they service the consumer, and how they deliver a meaningful experience.”
In its Predictions 2021: Retail report, Forrester predicts that the savviest mall operators will see a renaissance in 2021 — but with new business models and purpose in place.
“We predict mall operators will change tenant fee agreements to include online sales that involve in-mall fulfillment, such as “buy online, pick-up in-store,” on top of traditional in-store sales,” the report stated.
“And mall operators will attempt to take more control of their destinies (and the customers’ mall experience) by acquiring parts of their tenant portfolio, such as Simon Property Group and partners buying mall stalwarts such as Brooks Brothers and Forever 21.” (At press time, a U.S.
bankruptcy court approved the sale of J.C. Penney to Simon and Brookfield.)
Right-size Every Detail
“This is a forced right-sizing,” Johnson added. “Although painful, the industry will emerge much healthier and more flexible than in the past. In its own crazy way, this will have a pretty positive outcome.”
Ethan Chernofsky, VP of marketing at Placer Labs, is also optimistic about brick-and-mortar retail in 2021, and about the concept of right-sizing.
“As brands are able to look at data sources and understand where audiences are coming from, they can right-size intelligently,” he said. “Just cutting stores can hurt the situation and not solve the problem.
Walmart closed two supercenters last year, not because they were underperforming but because they could serve the same customers from other stores.
That is what right-sizing is all about: How you serve as much of your audience as possible with as few stores and as little cost as possible.”
Another critical aspect of right-sizing is footprint optimization within the box, a move to efficiency that ideally is tailored to meet the unique expectations of consumers in each market.
“The idea of a cookie cutter [format] will go away this year,” Gonsior predicted. “We need to be more flexible in how we think about what stores are, how they service the consumer, and how they deliver a meaningful experience.”
Finding balance is going to be critical, according to Gonsior. Retailers need to look at a store’s square footage and consider proportions of the front of house and back of house.
“If a store functions as a distribution center because the retailer is making deliveries to local customers or doing curbside pick-up, maybe the footprint where people shop is smaller and more spaces is dedicated to the back of house,” she said.
Right-sizing applies to product assortment and inventory control as well.
Antony Karbus, CEO, HRC Retail Advisory, predicts 2021 will be “incredibly uneven, with a huge polarization between the winners and the losers.”
“The big difference is that the winners will have very strong omnichannel capabilities,” Karbus said. “Winners will also have very strong inventory management capabilities and create a reason for people to come to the store, whether it’s a treasure hunt or fresh new merchandise. You can’t have stale goods in your store and think people will come, because they won’t.”
Karabus cited Dillard’s as having done a good job refreshing its inventory..
“The did massive markdowns in the second quarter to clean out inventory,” he said. “The only way department stores are going to survive is if they have an incredibly strong digital presence, an incredibly strong omnichannel capability, and merchandise that is fresh.”
Naveen Jaggi, president, America, retail advisory services at global real estate firm JLL, believes the big success story for retailers in 2021 will be how effective they are in making consumers feel at ease, either shopping online or in-store.
“Stores will get smarter about the seamless transition of product from online to store and they’ll get smarter about giving the customer that sense of safety to come into a store after they buy online, so fulfillment as well as product mix are two big steps I see happening better in 2021,” Jaggi said.
A sense of safety about returning to shopping is a critical component for brick-and-mortar retailing, but it is one that is controlled largely by extenuating circumstances. Jaggi suggests the speed at which workers return to the office will be a big indicator for the broader retail recovery across the U.S.
“Recovery for retail may be spotty, we’ll ly see better recovery in the Sunbelt and in suburban markets before we see it in urban and mass-transit markets,” he said. “I believe August will be a significant point in the 2021 calendar — major line of demarcation between recovering and recovered will be next August.”
“Retailers must convey a sense of safety without creating a setting that feels sterile or cold. Bring in fresh air whenever possible, create ambiance with sound and incorporate nonporous surfaces that reinforce sanitary practices.”
Humanize the store experience
For the better part of 2021, what has become the norm for retail settings will remain in place: masks, social distancing, limited interaction, and contactless transactions. What will be different is that retailers will increasingly find ways to humanize the store experience despite the pandemic protocols.
Even before 2020 and what she calls “the great acceleration and resetting of retail,” Joan Insel, VP of global retail strategy at CallisonRTKL, said the industry was “already moving to a health and well-being approach to store design, making stores welcoming, healthy, and smart.”
That’s even more important for 2021, when retailers must convey a sense of safety without creating a setting that feels sterile or cold.
“Always approach your stores from a customer-first mindset, and think about all of the senses when designing retail spaces,” Insel advised.
Suggestions for the coming months are to create openness and a feeling of harmony. Bring in fresh air whenever possible, create ambiance with sound and incorporate nonporous surfaces that reinforce sanitary practices.
“Have an edited assortment in stores so the aisles can be wider, and use lighting to create brightness, maybe even use lighting for subtle cues to direct people on where to stop and socially distance; it doesn’t always have to be a physical barrier,” Insel said.
Face masks actually create a “smile deficit,” she warned, which can affect mental wellness and leave a dubious brand impression. As a result, retailers should identify how store associates might show emotion or communicate positive feelings to customers.
Insel expects retailers will increasingly schedule private appointments for shoppers, particularly higher-end apparel brands.
“Consider how Ministry of Supply is doing individualized apparel with their special fabrics,” she added. “We want to get to this idea of personalization, and retailers have to figure out how to do that at scale.”
Placer Labs’ Chernofsky also believes appointment shopping will continue and become an even more significant part of offline retail, in part because it creates an opportunity for the retailer to balance their brand promise, brand identity, and value propositions.
“Economic uncertainty will linger beyond the pandemic,” he said. “For a huge swath of retail serving the majority of consumers in the U.S., value is going to be incredibly important.”
Insel believes that retailers will be doing more than “selling product” as services become a point of differentiation for brick-and-mortar brands. And the consensus among the analysts CSA spoke with is that the services will involve people as much as product.
“Retail has proven time and time again to be successful when customer service is one of the anchors on which they pride their business,” said JLL’s Jaggi.
Jaggi noted that five years ago, Best Buy was watched as a retailer on the down-side. But they spent millions of dollars on employee training and customer service, he said, and today they are a success story, which he credited to their customer service.
Read the full three-part cover story from Chain Store Age here.