Almost overnight, people started living very differently, which changed the way they gather information and limited opportunities to organically discover new things or to enjoy much of what was familiar. Retailers serving this market should continue to seek new touchpoints to interact with people and offer them experiences that appeal in their new circumstance. Some solutions will be prosaic – for example, transitioning from public touchscreens to user devices. Others will be more blue-sky, as retailers seek to design bespoke, individualised customer experiences that restore the connection, sense of place and belonging that have been damaged by the pandemic.
Urgent problems couldn’t wait for wholesale solutions, so individual innovation and ingenuity emerged, from working-from-home professionals repurposing their ironing board as a standing desk to entrepreneurs launching new businesses. Retailers have matched that ready innovation, transforming stores into fulfilment centres and rapidly reconfiguring supply chains to ensure life could continue for the nation.
This has highlighted how capable and resourceful we can be when it comes to rapid, large-scale innovation. In 2021, this capability will expand to uses of physical space, approaches to consumer engagement and experience, and to logistics and delivery models in the retail sector.
Blurring of the workspace
Working from home has become living in the office. Employers have opportunities (and responsibilities) to innovate in the key areas of technology, culture, talent and control. For now, the future of work is unclear – instead, retailers will facilitate an era of prototyping what the future of work could, and perhaps should, look like.
Nesting behaviour by consumers has driven record sales of homewares and garden renovation materials. While the future of work is still being written, it’s safe to assume that hybrid home-work spaces become the norm. Regular outings to retailers may become the new “third space”, where people seek relaxing or dynamic experiences beyond purely purchasing (which is increasingly done online). How retailers – and commercial landlords – navigate this shift will play a large part in their success in 2021.
How and where we bought things changed a lot in 2020. People started spending more time and money shopping online and supporting local businesses so they could avoid travel, and prioritise their communities. Retailers must adopt a customer experience-driven approach that best serves omnichannel customers at every touchpoint of their journey to purchase. Essentially, people want the same immediate gratification and delight from online purchases that they took for granted in store – no matter where they are. At present, they’re being disappointed. This evolving landscape presents a huge opportunity for retailers to enhance customer convenience and sync online and physical retail by diversifying fulfilment options, like click-and-collect, third party pickup points or transforming retail stores into micro fulfilment centres.
Many of us have been spending more time on screens to interact with the world. Consequently, customers are fatigued by the sameness of templated design in digital. Retailers must reconsider design, content, audience and the interaction between them to inject greater excitement into screen experiences. Interactions are ripe for a reboot, in ways that challenge and inspire us, excite us and bring the element of discovery back to our daily routines. Those that break free from outdated norms and restrictive design templates will be noticed and sought after.
The empathy challenge
The impacts of 2020 have facilitated the rise of conscious consumers, who want to support socially conscious brands that prioritise their staff and the environment. Brands need to recognise that now more than ever, what they do means more than what they say.
It’s not new information that aligning brand and customer values builds affinity and trust, but retailers need to take stock, prioritise the subjects that matter most to them, build their behaviours around those topics, and shape their narrative to talk about them. This doesn’t mean pandering to social trends, but earning the respect of discerning consumers by establishing a clear standpoint and direction, and communicating it consistently.
Rituals lost and found
One of the reasons many of us found 2020 emotionally challenging was the loss or disruption of the rituals we’ve built our lives around. Rituals are the habits to which we attach meaning and feelings. They’re the things we do regularly that may seem small but their effect on our mental wellbeing is significant.
Retailers that understand the blank space left by a lost ritual will jump into the driving seat for designing the new way of things, creating opportunities to help people in their search for comfort and security. With the events of 2020 upending so much of what we took for granted, retailers now need to look ahead with focus and flexibility, and a desire to help people solve their challenges on their own terms. With continued uncertainty around when disruptions will hit, how retailers respond to volatility in demand will be key. In many ways, retail in the 21st century starts now.