The current pandemic offers new opportunities for innovation: e-commerce is becoming more personal and social, while the shopping experience is becoming digital and contactless. Innovation can move fast, as the past year has proven.
Lasting change, times five
The retail industry is agile, as demonstrated in 2020. What seemed difficult and cumbersome in previous years often happened in just a few weeks last year: webshops sprouted out of nowhere, home deliveries organised, supply chains altered, and strategic collaborations entered into, all to continue serving consumers in times of crisis.
It is a lesson for the future, one that retailers should take note of as the same agility will be expected over the coming years. That is what trend agency Springwise concludes from its ‘Great Reset’ study: ‘agility’ is one of the five major trends we inherit from Covid 2020. As paradoxical as it may sound: all companies should develop flexible long-term strategies to deal with change.
According to Springwise, even when the virus will eventually be under control, global warming indicates that we are only at the beginning of a long period of crisis management. Furthermore, the change in consumer behaviour, fuelled by the pandemic, could be long-term. In other words, prepare for the unexpected.
2. More personal e-commerce
In mature markets, the growth of e-commerce had just stagnated when the pandemic erupted. It led to an online explosion that caused capacity problems for even the most tried and tested online retailers – such as Amazon and its warehouses. Also, another question arose: how can e-commerce (better) take over the role of physical stores?
Online shopping, certainly in industries such as cosmetics and homeware, has had to become more personal and more similar to the offline experience, it turned out. Virtual shopping by appointment, live help from in-store staff, all offered customers personalised attention in new ways. ‘Voice commerce’ has also progressed. For example, for the first time, thanks to the collaboration between Carrefour and Google, the French are now able to order groceries through their Google Home devices.
3. Social commerce and video streaming
In the consumer’s world, which suddenly found itself exclusively online, social media became an accepted sales channel. Video streaming and ‘social commerce’ experienced an upsurge and found its way to the West. Initiatives like Burberry’s, offering in-store consumers in Shenzhen virtual access to exclusive content via chat app WeChat, inspired several retailers to work on their content.
In 2021, Springwise expects to see many more examples of retailers aided by new platforms and tools. TikTok, for example, will collaborate with Shopify, enabling more than one million retailers and brands to post video ads on the overly popular app. Last year Facebook also made it easier to shop or make bookings via WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook Shops.
4. Digitisation of the store
Last year signified an unprecedented growth year for e-commerce, but the appeal of physical shopping remains – albeit under new ground rules. How can retailers reconcile the need for customer experience and service with social distancing? Technological innovation proved to be more necessary than ever last year.
What used to be mainly a technological gimmick, now found a legitimate raison d’être: contactless ordering via hologram, virtual fitting rooms with augmented reality, all providing a crucial sense of security in times of a pandemic. Another remarkable example was the opening of Amazon’s first physical supermarket: Amazon Fresh has been specifically designed to provide a seamless supermarket experience, no matter where (online or offline) it begins or ends.
5. Importance of sustainability and values
Both consumers and retailers recognise increasingly that now is the time to tackle climate issues. More than half (55 per cent) of young Gen Z-shoppers say they will look for retailers that operate in line with their core values, more than they used to, while 63 per cent of business leaders believe their organisation should focus on tackling the Covid-19 crisis. What’s more, new technologies and innovative products are making these sustainable shifts easier and cheaper.