Most years, there are one or two emerging trends that are expected to become big over the following 12 months. And this can make it relatively straightforward for retailers to prepare for the changes. But of course, 2020 hasn’t been like most years. The COVID-19 outbreak has shifted customer behaviors more rapidly than ever before, and many of the effects of the pandemic are expected to roll over to next year.
This means that there’s no single way that retailers can prepare for 2021. Preparing to succeed next year means carefully considering what new challenges the pandemic has introduced to the retail world, and identifying innovative and effective ways to overcome these challenges to meet customer expectations.
So what challenges are retailers likely to face next year, and how can you prepare for them?
Let’s take a look…
Challenge 1: Fluctuating Demand
“While traffic has begun to rise again over the past few months, there will most likely be variability moving forward. With active cases in a state of flux, store traffic can be expected to do the same”.
That’s according to the National Retail Federation, which believes that the ebbs and flows of localized outbreaks will create ongoing variability in foot traffic. As local cases rise, foot traffic may slow either due to a personal preference to remain at home or due to changes in legislation. And as cases drop, it can be expected that many shoppers will flock to stores to grab items they need during periods of lower risk.
And this is set to create one of the biggest challenges for retailers in 2021; knowing when the store will require the greatest level of cover - and when it won’t - to ensure retailers are getting the most value from the workforce. The best way to prepare for this unique challenge is to prioritize data analysis and forecasting, using both real-time and historical data to facilitate improved employee scheduling.
Challenge 2: Evolving Customer Needs
It’s clear that the global pandemic has had a huge impact on what customers want from their in-store shopping experience. Post-pandemic shoppers want contactless payments, with research by Mastercard suggesting that 80% of shoppers now use contactless, citing ‘safety and cleanliness’ as the primary reason. Next year, customers are expected to place more importance on store sanitation than ever.
Improving your store’s existing hygiene and sanitation practices - and communicating with shoppers the changes that are being made to facilitate a safe and secure in-store shopping experience - is key to preparing to succeed in 2021. If you haven’t already dipped a toe into the world of contactless payments, now is the time to invest in new payment technologies or upgrade older technologies.
Challenge 3: Altered Spending Habits
COVID-19 hasn’t just sparked a health crisis; it’s sparked an economic crisis, too. The US unemployment rate rose from 3.8% in February 2020 to 14.4% just two months later, resulting in many people facing financial uncertainty and difficulties. In turn, this has created a major trend for shoppers to spend more cautiously, and many are taking a more savvy approach to shopping in a bid to lower their outgoings.
This creates a new challenge for retailers who will need to introduce innovative tactics to re-normalize spending. The secret to preparing for this challenge is to focus on getting traffic through the door with savings, offers, and promotional deals. Coupons can be a highly effective option, particularly printed coupons which research shows have an 18% higher return on investment than digital alternatives.
Challenge 4: A Need for Speed
One of the biggest impacts the pandemic has had on the retail sector is that it’s sparked a new trend for ‘shopping with purpose’, which replaces the former trend of leisurely browsing. That’s because shoppers have a new desire to spend less time in enclosed spaces such as busy stores where it’s not always possible to practice social distancing. Retailers should now focus on creating swift in-store experiences.
The best way to prepare for this 2021 challenge is to introduce advanced technologies such as self-service kiosks or mobile point of sale solutions which can reduce line length and in some cases even eradicate traditional queuing systems in a bid to get shoppers through the store faster. By spending less time in busy queues, shoppers can reduce the risk of viral spread and maintain a safe distance from others.
Challenge 5: Shifting Customer Preference
Many countries around the world were together making huge strides towards a greener future. And sadly, the pandemic has caused a significant setback. It’s reported that 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves are used - and disposed of - every month, and for hygiene reasons, single-use plastics are back in fashion. It’s reported that waste levels have grown by 30% as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Today, customers are actively looking to support retailers that do their part to protect the environment. And for those retailers that have not introduced eco-friendly processes, this presents a new challenge. The good news is there are lots of ways to prepare. One such way is to switch to eco-friendly POS solutions, such as receipt printers from responsible suppliers that use BPA-free, recyclable paper.
COVID-19 and Beyond
While the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to be temporary, the impact that the pandemic has had on the retail sector - and on the world - is not. The global crisis has introduced many long-lasting changes that will be witnessed throughout 2021, and beyond. That’s why preparing for the new challenges that have arisen in 2020 is so crucially important for retailers. These challenges are not one-offs; these are challenges that retailers are going to face long into the future, so taking measures now to facilitate great shopping experiences in the future is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t just survive, but thrive.
Derek spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets and communication. With a focus on Retail, Derek helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor cost in line and build award-winning workplaces. Derek has over 16 years’ experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.