6 Non-obvious CX Trends That Will Dominate Retail in 2021

2020 taught us that predicting the future can be a risky business. But that’s not stopping people from looking into the crystal ball. The search term “2021 retail trends” on Google yields a measly 416 million results. Given this, you might wonder why we’re doing this. 

For starters, we’ll limit the scope of this blog to customer experience in retail and e-commerce. Furthermore, we’ll not give you apparent trends such as the increasing shift to e-commerce due to the pandemic or how CX will be the number 1 differentiator above product and price. 

Here are some non-obvious trends that will define retail in 2021.

    1. Everywhere commerce: The lines between online and offline retail will blur further.
    2. Everyone’s an influencer: Retailers will spend more on loyalty and advocacy programs.
    3. Exceptional digital service: CX will be recalibrated around new customer behavior patterns.
    4. Experiential retail: Multi-sensory retail experiences will be available from the comfort of your home.
    5. Ethical retail: Retailers will need to live up to their customers’ ideals and beliefs.
    6. Employee wellness: The safety and mental health of employees will become an organizational priority

1. Everywhere commerce

Unlike retailers, buyers don’t look at retail through the lens of online vs offline. Moreover, the lines between online and offline retail have been blurred further by the pandemic with the rise of formats like ‘Buy online, pick up in-store’ or BOPIS.

2020 also saw social channels like Instagram and Youtube acting as vehicles for product discovery. They will evolve further to offer an end-to-end commerce experience.

2. Everyone’s an influencer 

According to McKinsey, 36% of US consumers tried a new brand during the pandemic, with 25% of those opting for private labels. They abandoned relations with existing brands for each of these new brand trials. Most of these buying decisions are based on peer recommendations and other user-generated content.

As brand loyalties continue to get shattered, brands will need to be mindful of their buyers’ power to positively or negatively influence their revenue with a single online review or a tweet. Successful retailers in 2021 will proactively work on fostering loyalty and advocacy by offering exceptional post-purchase experiences and leverage technology to make the bulk of this happen.

3. Exceptional digital service

The pandemic has made retailers look at loyalty as the primary growth driver. According to Forrester’s 2021 predictions, the spending on loyalty and retention marketing will increase by 30% while spending in other areas slows. 

As more consumers flock to online channels, retailers will use this budget to overhaul existing loyalty programs and digitize contact centers. 2021 will see retailers investing in contact center technologies to support new-age formats like BOPIS. More retailers will incorporate proactive service to aid the post-sales and in-transit experience. Further, with the growing number of millennial and GenZ buyers, retailers will look to offer instant gratification via customer service. Channels like live chat and messaging and bot-based self-service platforms will see high adoption that will significantly increase the speed of service.

4. Experiential retail

As buyers continue to be anxious about stepping outside, more retailers will invest in AR and VR technologies to compensate for the lack of multi-sensory physical retail experience. A great example of this is the retailer Blue Nile that successfully digitized the high-touch jewelry buying process.

As digital commerce continues to become more experiential, physical stores will become simple and purpose-driven. Maze-like “shoppertainment” stores from brands like IKEA will have to pivot to ones that maximize buyer and employer safety and efficiency.

5. Ethical retail

According to Forrester, 41% of US consumers seek to buy from a company associated with social, environmental, and political ideals. The trend is more pronounced among younger consumers.

As the economy bounces back and the buying power of these consumer groups rises, brands that showcase integrity, respect the environment they operate in, and treat its customer and employees with empathy will continue to be rewarded by customers.

6. Employee wellness

Employee experience is the best predictor of customer experience – after all, anxious and stressed employees can seldom serve customers at their best.  2020 brought employee wellness to the forefront, and brands will continue investments and conversations related to this in 2021. There will be an increased focus on protecting frontline workers and taking care of the mental health of those operating remotely.

Retailers will also increasingly lean on technology to reduce employees’ stress and make them more productive. Expect spending on remote-ready hardware and software to go up. Retailers will also spend on bot-based solutions for customer service agents. These solutions can bring up relevant information in real-time and suggest the next-best actions, thereby helping agents do their jobs better and faster.

Curious to know more about the state of retail in 2021? Join us for this exclusive panel discussion, featuring some of the best minds in retail from brands like Paypal, Medallia, and Lateshipment.