Four Trends That Will Shape Retail In 2021

Many retailers will be excited to put 2020 with its unpredictable shopping patterns and lengthy lockdowns behind them. After a bruising year, they will be looking at 2021 as a year to re-group and re-build. But with the vaccine rolling out across the whole year and a large proportion of the population still vulnerable to the virus, it seems unlikely that major shifts in consumer behavior will happen any time soon.

More likely, 2021 will see a continuation of some of the key trends that shaped retail in 2020. From conscious consumerism to the resurgence of the physical store, here’s what will be moulding retail in 2021.

Conscious consumerism takes center stage
There is nothing new about the growing desire of an increasingly large part of the population to buy less but buy better. For a few years now, and particularly since 2017 and the “Blue Planet 2 effect”, there has been a major shift in consumer attitudes, for example towards disposable and single use plastic.

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The pandemic has accelerated this trend, suggesting that the desire to buy from businesses that focus on their ethical and sustainable credentials will only grow in 2021.

“The pandemic has encouraged consumers to be more conscious of their shopping choices and wanting to ‘do good’. These values are also something that consumers want the brands they’re buying from to reflect, with our research suggesting 83% of Brits want companies to do more to integrate environmental considerations into their products and operations” explains Chris Biggs, Global Head of Retail at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

With this growing desire to shop ethically, the consumer is more discerning and less likely to fall for “greenwashing”, or businesses that pay only lip service to ethical considerations. As Biggs summarises: “To cater to this demand, large retailers must get creative to help differentiate themselves from competitors. This needs to go much further than donating a portion of their profits to charitable causes, and is about reimagining the way they do business and/or leveraging their brand and authority to influence positive change.”

Shopping local remains key
One of the biggest unexpected positives of 2020 has been a resurgence of local shopping areas. With customers being unwilling to travel to larger shopping centers, many smaller shopping areas saw an upswing in sales. It seems likely that this desire to shop locally will continue into 2021, especially as many people continue to work from home.

Interestingly, consumers who want to shop ethically are often also passionate about supporting local shops as well, making shopping locally doubly important to many consumers. “Supporting independent and local is a call to action in itself and reflects positively on a consumers’ personal brand,” says Biggs. Savvy local shops and independent retailers are well placed to serve these conscious consumers and would do well to focus their messaging around the benefit to the community and the planet of shopping local.

As Biggs explains: “With our research showing that 41% of consumers intend to buy more locally in the future, independent retailers should focus on using their local appeal to help them stand out. They must market their local produce and emphasize their positive role within the community to appeal to the more conscious-consumer”.

Physical retail fights back
There is no doubt that online retail emerged as the clear winner in 2020 as consumers looked for ease, convenience and safer ways to shop. The percentage of shopping that happened online grew to over a third at the height of lockdown, and introduced new customers to online shopping who had perhaps never shopped online before…   Forbes