Blog post

What we learned about retail in 2021

Like a phoenix from the flames, 2021 has seen retail rise up from the ashes. Amidst a huge sea change in the industry, here’s what stood out for us.

  • Topic
    Retail trends, Store operations, Customer experience

Like a phoenix from the flames, 2021 has seen retail rise up from the ashes of the global pandemic and transform itself into a shining example of a fast, agile and future-proofed industry.

The clanging chimes of Covid-flavored doom were ringing loudly at the start of the year. Across the globe, with many government imposed restrictions in place, physical stores were forced to close their doors. But rather than wallow in self pity, retail took the opportunity to reimagine itself and to emerge from the dark days of winter in a stronger position than ever before.

2021 was the year of retail renaissance. It was the year retailers put the pedal to the metal to accelerate digital transformation. It was the year retailers put the customer back on a pedestal and asked themselves: “How can we give our customers what they want, when they want it, every single time?”

Amidst a huge sea change in the industry, here’s what stood out for us:

  1. The enduring importance of physical retail

  2. A renewed and reinvigorated focus on CX

  3. A changing approach to retail software and IT architecture

Let’s dive into these further…

The enduring importance of physical retail

Shoppers across the globe channeled their inner Olivia Newton John with a collective mindset of “Let’s Get Physical.” After 18 months of widespread disruption, the summer of 2021 saw stores fully reopen and shoppers returned to them in droves. 

The most successful examples of this were stores that evolved throughout the lockdown period to become more than the sum of their parts. From acting as micro fulfillment through to becoming experiential destinations, the role of the physical store changed but it’s importance didn’t.

While some stores - mainly department stores - struggled to bounce back after failing to adapt to new and emerging shopping behaviors, independents have thrived and pure online players are moving into physical spaces.

From the launch of Gymshark’s first physical store on Regent Street in London to Boohoo’s first step into physical retail in Manchester, retailers who have always been online have seen the value physical retail can bring.

As August Bard-Bringéus, co-founder of Swedish fashion brand ASKET who also opened their first physical store in 2021, explains: “We see the store as an opportunity to offer an immersive and transparent experience, beyond what we’ve been able to offer online. We know our customers, ideally, want to try before they buy and most people want to have the opportunity to try something on.”

A renewed and reinvigorated focus on CX

The customer hasn’t always taken center stage in retail - but they did in 2021. Retailers realized with customers returning to stores, delivering a first class experience - whether physically, digitally or cross-channel - had to be the number one priority.

According to Zebra’s annual shopper study The Essential Shopper Experience: Safety, Speed and Convenience: “Although shoppers’ continue to move to online and mobile, in-store shopping is still alive and necessary for retailers to provide a seamless omnichannel shopping experience. Customers expect safe, convenient and integrated experiences from retailers wherever and however they shop. Retailers need to fully digitize and optimize to adapt to shoppers' flexible shopping habits.”

By embracing digitalization and new technologies, forward-thinking retailers are able to get a 360° view of their customers’ cross-channel behavior. This gives retailers a huge amount of data and knowledge about what their customers want - therefore making it easier for them to deliver on their customer promise. 

This data - like past purchases, feedback on previous in-store experiences, items browsed online, and much more - can empower store associates to deliver personalized experiences and go above and beyond customer expectations.

As John Ekström, CEO of menswear brand John Henric, says: “Retail is always evolving and, if you want to be successful, you have to stay ahead of new and emerging customer behavior. Investing in game-changing technology is the most effective way of doing this and, when you find solutions that benefit both your associates and your customers, it’s a win-win.” 

A changing approach to retail software and IT architecture

2021 has seen retailers’ mindsets towards retail software and IT architecture begin to fundamentally shift. Retailers are beginning to build IT ecosystems that are agile and set the right foundations in the organization to be able to meet new and emerging ways of shopping.

Using software solutions as building blocks, retailers can enable a set of capabilities that form the experiences buyers want. Customer journeys are no longer linear and, by managing these capabilities and solutions, retailers are enabling customers to create their own journey - rather than mapping it out for them.

To make this happen, IT departments have to control the building blocks. This means finding best-of-breed solutions that can be used to create the best setup for the business; POS, ERP, Ecom, PIM, Payments and so on. All of these blocks should be built with modern, cloud-native technology, be API first and easy to integrate to fit with the others.

The right blocks should not only be easy to integrate and implement - they should also be easy to replace. Rethinking the approach to software and changing yourt mindset brings with it a host of benefits for your business, your store associates and your customers.

As Jonas Forth, Head of Digital at Moomin Characters and Managing Director of All Things Commerce, notes: “As a brand it’s very important for us to drive our own retail because it creates physical locations for fans to engage with and we want them to get a similar experience whether they shop online or in our official stores.

“Previously we were working with heavy-duty systems that weren’t versatile, had weak APIs, didn’t play well with each other, were PC-based, weren’t transparent and had poor support. Now, we have solutions in place that are simple to set up, easy to use and empower the store managers and associates to walk around the stores and engage with the customers in a different way – rather than being locked down to a station at the register.

“Our old retail systems operated as silos in terms of data and product submissions. With our new set up we’re pulling it all together so we have one unified feed that comes into Shopify, Sitoo and Voyado and wherever else we need it. This will help create a natural flow in the stores and create even better experiences for the Moomin fans.”

You can download our free ebook here to find out more about how to ramp up your CX in 2022by changing your mindset to retail software & IT architecture.

In Summary

We believe there’s never been a more exciting time to work in retail than right now. Across the globe advances in tech are picking up pace and empowering retailers to create new, powerful shopping experiences for their customers across all touchpoints. 

Both store associates and customers are being empowered by digitalization and new technology. 

It’s a brave new world for retail, one where innovation, courage and the desire to push boundaries will all be rewarded and help the most ambitious of you out there get the edge on your competitors.

And we’re here to help businesses like yours reach new heights and enjoy success after success!

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