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Published June 9th 2021

The Big Retail Industry Trends for 2021

What are the biggest retail trends that companies and brands in the retail sector should be on the lookout for in 2021? Here are Brandwatch’s top five

Last year we saw how Covid-19 disrupted consumption patterns across the retail sector. As we enter into the second year of the pandemic, what are the five biggest trends retail companies and the industry as a whole should be on the lookout for in 2021? Let’s explore, using online data gathered in our recent report on the biggest consumer trends in retail for 2021.

Five huge retail trends for 2021

Trend #1: The rise of contactless shopping technology

Retailers continue to innovate by integrating new technologies to help make the shopping experience smoother and, more importantly, safe for consumers in 2021. 

Since in-store shopping has been very limited for the last year, figuring out how to provide a seamless experience online became top of mind for most retail companies. Which of these innovations were most successful, and what could we see more of in 2021? 

Last year many companies were praised for offering AI- and AR-powered retail tech to provide a way for consumers to try on clothes, accessories, and even makeup virtually. At the same time, ever since the pandemic was declared, the search interest for ‘virtual try on’ grew rapidly. There is ongoing strong demand for this type of retail technology.

Touch-free tech is also important for payment, with e-wallets slowly but surely taking over cash and credit card payments. But some consumers have expressed concern over the extra steps they have to take in the case of Apple Pay, which still requires them to enter a PIN when paying in stores if a transaction exceeds a certain amount. For the record, that amount in the US is 50 USD.

Pro tip: By keeping a finger on the pulse of their audience, retail companies can stay ahead of the game and manage consumers’ expectations more efficiently.

Trend #2: Livestreaming is shaping e-commerce

Throughout 2020, more and more home-bound consumers found themselves engaging in shopping online via livestream technology. Deprived of mall-based shopping sprees due to the pandemic and social restrictions, many consumers, especially in Asia, happily spent hours online watching their favorite celebrities, local TV personalities, and influencers host entertaining shows on various topics like fitness, skincare, cooking, etc that are designed to sell. This tends to include a blend of streaming video, live chatting on social media, and DTC live selling.

Unsurprisingly, livestreams became an important instrument in generating revenue for many global companies and brands, and this trend is expected only to grow more moving forward. 

Pro tip: In order to win the consumer, retailers need to expand their strategies to include innovative approaches such as livestreams and other social activations that will help keep their brands and products top of mind.

Trend #3: The growing power of the socially-conscious consumer 

In the last couple of years we saw the following three social movements steadily gain popularity:

  • “Support Black-owned businesses”
  • “Shop local”
  • “Support small businesses”

Socially-conscious consumers are very influential on social media, and there is a lot of conversation around what to buy and what brands to support.

For example, both “support Black-owned businesses” and the #shopsmall hashtag were mentioned over a million times on social in 2020. 

Pro tip: Today’s consumers shop more mindfully. They care a lot about the brands they shop with, and what those companies stand for. Retailers need to stay aware of changing consumer attitudes and monitor the information that’s being shared about their brands. A tool like Brandwatch Consumer Research can be vital for both discovering the insights and ongoing tracking. 

“Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.” Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.

Jeff Bezos couldn’t have said it better. Retail companies should aim at building and curating positive consumer experiences for all potential customers.

Trend #4: Demand for convenience is boosting e-commerce 

Consumer demand for the convenience of not leaving one’s house grew rapidly (and unsurprisingly) in 2020, boosting conversations around delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. 

One of the major topics of conversations within the topic last year was the delivery of food and beverages. Beyond ordering groceries, consumers started showing a lot of interest in meal kits.

Topics like “30 minutes”, “home chef”, and “healthy food” were dominating the food delivery conversations last year. 

Pro tip: As consumers remain house-bound, they are looking to bring variety to their eating experiences. It is pivotal that food retailers and foodservice operators monitor consumer buying behaviors as well as growing trends for particular products or services so they can meet needs at the time of highest demand.

Trend #5: The ongoing popularity of frontline workers

During the pandemic, consumers have realized how much they rely on particular services, like grocery stores, pharmacies, bodegas, and restaurants. Not only have interactions with frontline workers sometimes been the only interactions consumers have had, people have come to realize the pressure those workers are under.

Since March 2020, consumers seem to have reassessed how they feel about frontline workers who are now considered heroes within communities. We found this to be especially evident in conversations about food delivery and grocery stores, where the sentiment seemed to be very positive. 

Pro tip: Your frontline workers are the face of your brand, and kindness and professionalism can go a long way. 

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Discover the Biggest Consumer Trends in Retail

What can millions of digital data points tell us about emerging trends in the retail industry? Find out in our new report.

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