Business planning – What should retailers be thinking about?

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2021 will stand firm in our memory for generations as the time the world finally returned to some sense of normality. It is a year to celebrate and, for customer-facing companies a year of adaption, evolution, and survival. However, it is never enough to stand still in business, and leaders need to continue to look forward.

The future of retail may look very different to what it is now, and we are beginning to see a number of emerging trends that retailers should take note of if they want to stay ahead of the competition.


Trend 1: Brick-and-mortar stores will transition to a wider eCommerce base


The prevailing trend in retail over the past 18 months is a pivot to eCommerce like never before. With high streets vacant and some brick-and-mortar stores closing for good, the digital world boomed. But with a post-Covid recovery underway, we’re already seeing a return to a physical/digital mix.

People want things quickly and conveniently and have less patience for roadblocks in their way For some shoppers this may be the ease of being able to order online with next day delivery, while for others it may be easier to nip into their local town centre or retail park. Whichever their preferred way to shop, retailers need to be able to provide convenience for consumers.

Longer-term, many retailers are looking to online channels to bolster their future growth and to ensure they’re prepared against any other unexpected crises.


Trend 2: Digital and face-to-face personalisation


It’s a retail trend as old as the first storefront: personalisation. People love to feel loved, whether it is through loyalty schemes, tailored offers, or a simple smile at the door.

We expect to see an increased focus on personalisation from retailers, both in-store and online, with the two experiences merging, in best cases, to create a truly bespoke customer journey. A 2020 study by Bond, showed 95% of current loyalty programme members want to interact with emerging technologies such as chatbots, AI, or VR.

Incorporating artificial intelligence aspects into a function such as loyalty schemes, allows retailers to acquire vital customer information, helping them to develop products and services specific to their customers’ needs, based on data.


Trend 3: Sustainability and ethical practices


The modern shopper appreciates value for money and ease of service, but increasingly they’re looking to businesses they are purchasing from to demonstrate a sustainable and environmentally friendly outlook.

Leading this movement is Gen Z consumers, ninety-per-cent of who believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.

As the decade progresses and climate issues grow we do not expect this to change. On the contrary, the focus is likely to grow stronger, a spotlight on everything from production to delivery will need to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.


Trend 4: Continuation towards a cashless society


The impact of the coronavirus pandemic made a cashless society even more of a reality, with reports claiming that the UK could be cashless by 2026.

Tech-focused companies are already integrating seamless payments across their platforms, one well-known example being Uber – which hold a customer’s information on file, so once they’ve hailed and used their Uber, they’ve been transported to their destination where they depart with not a credit card or cash in sight.

Simultaneously we expect to see wider adoption of point-of-sale finance, particularly where it applies to interest free credit on goods, allowing customers to spread the cost of purchases. The increased flexibility on payment choices for consumers, combined with the speed and ease of the process is leading to a continued rise in popularity with the use of “buy now, pay later” products in the UK set to more than double by 2023.


Trend 5: An artificial interface


eCommerce has always embraced change. There is no greater change on the horizon than that of artificial intelligence. It is already being utilised online but the AI of today will pale in comparison to that of the future.

In the future, we envisage a world where storefronts dynamically shift to best serve individual customers based on a data bank of their behaviour on past visits, not just in terms of featured items that exists today but the whole user interface experience. The retail industry is beginning to explore this world, where colours, symbols and layouts shift to best serve the individual and make sales more likely.

Machine learning can achieve this, learning from each visit to know what a customer may want on the next.

With customers wanting convenience and personalisation, whilst being open to interacting with emerging technologies, AI is a trend that should be on all eCommerce provider’s radar.


The future of eCommerce


The true future of eCommerce will remain a mystery until it arrives. Like each generation of business, there will be a trend just now beginning to break that takes the world by storm. What we do know is that successful businesses and retailers will adapt as they always have, because those that don’t will get left behind.

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