What’s in Store for Retail in 2021?

In store for retail in 2021

Industry experts predict what will be the biggest trends for retailers as we head into the new year. 

Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic and resultant national lockdowns have prompted a seismic shift in the retail landscape – one that nobody could have predicted this time last year. Widespread job losses and the collapse of famous highstreet giants (Arcadia, Laura Ashley, Debenhams) casts a sombre light on the future of bricks-and-mortar retail. 

At the same time, the pandemic has acted as a hyper accelerant on forces that have been reshaping retail for years. For example, omnichannel offerings, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous deliveries and fulfilment capabilities, have all become increasingly prominent. 

With the world of retail set to change further over the course of 2021, Modern Retail spoke to six industry experts to discover their predictions for the coming year. 

Turn omnichannel 

It has been a tumultuous year for the retail industry, which has required retailers to navigate national lockdowns, non-essential store closures and an accelerated shift to e-commerce channels. “As we head into 2021, and ‘browsing’ goes almost entirely digital, it is absolutely crucial to not only show inventory online, but to make sure it is accurate and up to date,” explains Rob Shaw, MD EMEA at Fluent Commerce.

“Retailers need to think about both how they can maximise their margins on store fulfilled orders (by optimising their pick and pack processes, for example) and also about how they can make the most out of this store traffic with upselling strategies. 

“In 2021, we will see a desire to stabilise, automate and scale these processes. Retailers will prepare for uncertainty – as this year has shown is necessary. Speed and agility will win over features in the coming months and the collaborative approach of retailers and vendors will continue to ensure viability.”

“It is clear that the way brands and consumers interact has fundamentally changed,” agrees Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO & Co-Founder of Content Guru. “Part and parcel of this ongoing shift is the need for businesses to prioritise their customer engagement strategy – ensuring they are able to meet changing consumer demands and behaviours. Utilising an omnichannel engagement strategy allows retailers to deliver to shoppers’ preferred channels of interaction, whether than be in-store or online. Most importantly, implementing a scalable cloud solution allows retailers to handle any interactive scenario – from social rant to video shopping consultation – whether their customer service teams are in or out of lockdown. Furthermore, AI-driven intelligent automation is on-hand to soak up the excess demand.”

Smart security

Of the many challenges that retailers face, theft and fraudulent purchases are one of the biggest issues,” said Rishi Lodhia, Managing Director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks. “As life starts to get back to somewhere near ‘normal’ and shoppers return to the high streets once more, retailers should ensure they have the right security measures in place to minimise the risk of falling foul.

“In addition to merchandising security, smart inventory management tools, and other things like anti-theft signage, in 2021 organisations should invest in video surveillance as the single best way to prevent theft. It enables retailers to keep an eye on multi-store locations, increasing efficiency particularly for those that are shorter staffed than usual. If the worst does occur, today’s cloud-based video surveillance platforms have the capability to quickly pinpoint when an incident or theft occurred and share video evidence with the appropriate authorities. Unlike situations where authorities have to visit a store and download the images with a USB stick, the images can be shared easily and remotely by email or Whatsapp.”

According to the 2020 Trustwave Global Security Report, the retail industry was the most-targeted sector for cyberattacks for the third year in a row. “The key challenge for IT and security teams is that tackling security vulnerabilities is a 24×7 noisy old business,” explains Stephen Roostan, VP EMEA at Kenna Security

“According to the Cyentia Institute, a typical organisation has the capacity to fix about one out of 10 vulnerabilities in their environment. No wonder 90% of CISOs would be willing to take a nearly $10K pay cut to improve work-life balance.

“From first-hand experience I know that the teams that have embraced data science, real-time vulnerability intelligence and automation are most likely to succeed. The reason is simple: it enables them to cut through the noise and understand which vulnerabilities pose the biggest threat to their business. They can then create a prioritised and efficient approach to fixing the most important problems first, which frees up precious resources to address other IT issues, reducing some of the pressure put on the team.”

Online offerings

As we look ahead to an uncertain 2021, one surety is that the trading environment will continue to change at short notice, so businesses will need to react quickly and move to new channels to take advantage of opportunities. 

Animesh Chowdhury, Founder & CTO of Goodtill, says: “Cloud business services such as enhanced analytics and connected devices will help to support business agility and keep costs down.

Any lagard businesses which have resisted the move to card payments will need to innovate and move to accept card and online payments to keep trading.

“As more businesses will migrate to mobile and online ordering, the good news is that there will be lower fees for traders thanks to increased competition from payment companies and online platforms. The move to online channels also means businesses can offer a more personalised experience to customers including communications, discounts and offers based on their profile or previous purchases. Agile micro-merchants, such as small, ethical and local brands will do well as they adopt more digital tools to build and sell to a like-minded community online.”

“2020 has been a turbulent year, but the retailers who have thrived amidst the COVID storm are those who have strengthened their online operations,” Jonathan Wright, Industry Director – Retail, Six Degrees, concludes.

“The transition to online spending has accelerated in 2020 and I expect this trend to continue in 2021. Successful retailers will be the ones that adapt best to this shift in consumer behaviour, not necessarily through large-scale digital transformations, but likely through smaller strategic changes and the best use of data to yield practical benefits and enable business agility.”