It’s been nearly a year since the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 resulted from panicked consumers fortifying their homes in response to the uncertainty of a global pandemic. Thereafter, we saw store closures and bankruptcies, along with innovations like curbside pickup and contactless payments as the retail industry struggled—and then pivoted—to serve customers who suddenly had wildly different needs.
At CES on Tuesday, Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, a research and advisory firm focused on retail and technology, detailed what she believes will be the biggest trends shaping retail in 2021. Her list follows—you may notice some familiar themes:
Weinswig noted consumer spend will change again once shoppers have greater access to physical stores and can go out to venues like bars and restaurants with friends and family again. This follows a shift in spend in 2020 as consumers adjusted to life in lockdown, spiking demand for products like bicycles.
“In terms of actual dollars, you’ve seen the greatest shift in terms of healthcare, health and wellness,” she added. “It’s anything from IV drips to CBD and anything related to the sports-like outdoor life and how consumers can keep themselves healthy.”
Noting she “never would have expected” to see this, Weinswig also pointed to changes in the store and mall landscape resulting from both technology and tenant mixes, as well as a shift in the landlord-tenant relationship.
“We’re seeing … landlords supporting tenants, whether that’s helping them pop up dark stores to stage products [or helping] with curbside pickup and BOPIS or [having] special parking spaces designated … to really kind of move things through the centers,” she said. “We’re even starting to see this thing we coined last year called BOPIM, buy online pick up in mall, [which] has also been quite successful.”
Weinswig anticipates digital-first retail strategies will continue to be key to success in 2021, particularly as new technologies emerge.
“Some of the data that I found to be truly the most impressive was when Walmart reported third quarter earnings and the majority of their U.S. [comparable store sales] was digital-first—so the consumer started online, they may have transacted or that sale culminated offline,” she said. “But we have seen many new consumers, young and old, become much more comfortable shopping digitally and that’s really changed the landscape.”
Another 2020 trend expected to continue is the practice of doing good for the greater good, which fuels better business outcomes. That includes efforts focused on sustainability and inclusivity—like extended sizes, gender fluidity and multicultural elements.
“[Inclusivity is] also great for retail because it’s a very … nascent market with significant opportunity,” she said. “There’s so much here to unpack, but it’s great for retail and the more that retailers can have a point of view on how they serve this customer once again, we believe will be quite significant in terms of sales [in 2021].”
As retailers seek new ways to frictionlessly transact with customers, U.S. consumers will start to see more QR codes and what Weinswig called “super apps.”
“We’re starting to see a lot of that technology really pop up here in the U.S.,” she added. “And that idea around frictionless in all aspects of retail is truly in my opinion driving so much of what we saw in 2020. And as new technologies are put into place, we will see even more [in 2021].”