The Future of Retail is Experience: Three Strategies to Help Marketers Succeed in 2021

by Movable Ink

Becki Francis, Associate Director, Strategy (EMEA Retail) at Movable Ink, gives three strategies marketers should be using in 2021.

2020 caused seismic shifts across every industry and retail was no exception. With countries locked down and stores closed, eCommerce adoption accelerated at rapid rates. In fact, eCommerce accounted for 30.9 per cent of all UK retail sales in 2020—a milestone that wasn’t expected for another five years.

Against the backdrop of this highly dynamic landscape, it will be more important than ever for retailers to proactively adapt to rapidly shifting consumer expectations. Here are three key trends digital marketers should keep in mind in 2021.

Evolving from eCommerce to experience

Last year’s increased digital adoption will evolve into a demand for evermore innovative digital experiences in 2021. As consumers become more accustomed to shopping online, they will continue to seek out slicker, more compelling digital interactions, and retailers will turn to new technologies to serve that need.

To make online interactions as seamless and engaging as possible, retailers are prioritising tactics that compress the buying funnel, shrinking the time between inspiration, search, and transaction. Social commerce, shoppable video, and livestreaming have become prevalent channels to reduce that friction and drive significant results. With stores shuttered and browsing limited, retailers are similarly embracing augmented reality (AR) to assist customers in best understanding how a product meets their needs.

To keep up with customer expectations and power conversions, retailers should consider how to bring these kinds of friction-free experiences to every customer touchpoint. Consider tactics such as highlighting editorial and video content based on behavioural data, bringing in relevant user-generated content (UGC) based on the customer’s browsing habits, and showcasing product star rating and top reviews within marketing and trigger communications.

Driving real omnichannel experiences

2020 saw its fair share of store closures and high-profile bankruptcies—a trend that experts anticipate will continue. Although stores may no longer be the primary end-point for many shoppers, as eCommerce continues to grow, the high street will continue to play a critical role as part of the end-to-end supply chain.

As stores start to reopen and footfall begins to return, retailers should recognise that the customer journey is no longer either/or. Instead, most customer journeys converge across physical and digital, and retailers will need to facilitate the seamless shifting between the two. Expect to see a stronger commitment to click-and-collect and curbside pick-up, adoption of newer digital technologies to enable contactless shopping, like QR codes, and the continued evolution of the in-store associate to “omni-associate,” servicing customers in-store and online.

With consumers spending more time browsing online before visiting stores, retailers would be wise to double down on powering a more seamless, personalised digital drive-to-store experience, including providing the most up-to-date inventory information, driving urgency by highlighting how much time is left for same-day pick-up or delivery, and clearly showcasing nearest store details.

A new, holistic approach to loyalty

While acquisition rates soared amid COVID-19, retailers found it difficult to retain customers, and the top three reasons were largely out of their control—store closures, stock outages, and fulfillment challenges. These challenges have forced consumers to change their shopping behaviours and seek out the products they needed elsewhere. In fact, 81 per cent of customers say they expect to continue trying new brands after the pandemic.

This has only intensified loyalty programme competition. While retailers have been relying more on traditional retention tools, including purchase discounts, free shopping, and points, many have also sought new opportunities to differentiate their experience and provide superior service. If history is any indication of the future, brands should consider the cautionary tale of the 2008 financial crisis—retailers who excelled at customer experience posted three times higher shareholder returns compared to those who lagged behind.

While customer experiences have come under the microscope, so too have companies’ business ethics and societal impacts. In fact, nearly three in four shoppers already say that a company’s values play an important part in purchase decisions. Brand loyalty will become even more closely tied to how a brand’s social, environmental, and political ideals align with customers’ values. To succeed in the loyalty war, marketers should continue sharing community or environmental initiatives with data visualisation, such as highlighting carbon savings from recycled or resold products, or showing a live total of funds raised or donated to philanthropic causes.

Preparing for what’s next

2021 will, in many ways, be a continuation and evolution of the many trends we saw unfold in 2020. While the pandemic certainly accelerated digital trends, it also provided marketers with a unique opportunity to demonstrate long-term value and drive out-of-the-box experiences. These three strategies can help retailers prepare for ever-evolving customer expectations, remain agile even amid the most unpredictable of times, and deliver personalised experiences that drive results.