Blog: 2020 Was A Turbulent Year for Retail Trends—And What Does it Mean for 2021?

January 07, 2021  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting back on a strange year, and considering my plans for the new year to come. It’s been an eventful year in retail, to say the least—and there’s more to come in 2021.

Looking back on a turbulent year
Well, it goes without saying that COVID-19 had—and still has—a tremendous impact not only on Retail, but the global community as a whole. The modern world has not seen anything like this before in any form or shape, as the pandemic has impacted people’s lives in many ways. It impacted retailers big time, and in various ways: Stores had to be temporarily—or in some cases even permanently—closed, the number of customers in-store had to be restricted, consumers rapidly shifted to online channels to order their products, consumption patterns changed and convenience stores became more attractive, and consumers and staff alike demanded solutions that better catered to the “new normal” of low-touch or even no-touch shopping journeys.

For the latter, self-service solutions like self-checkout (SCO) and self-scanning came to the rescue, and several retailers implemented these solutions, like Co-op and Edeka WEZ. With self-service technology, consumers are empowered to choose the shopping journey they prefer, and one that’s more intuitive and frictionless. Self-service lets consumers control the way they shop, supporting low-touch and no-touch journeys, at the pace they want. 

Some trends were expected—others, less so
Sustainability was another area that—although a bit over-shadowed by COVID-19—got attention from retailers. According to Deloitte, sustainability was one of the original trends foreseen to kick in this year, next to having an authentic purpose and being disrupted by the impact of digital1. At Diebold Nixdorf, we saw the release of the new DN SeriesTM BEETLE product portfolio which allows retailers to implement modular technology upgrades and which was developed with adaptability, green sustainability and a reduced footprint at its core. This new checkout solution was specifically designed and built with “green technology” reducing overall power consumption while over 90% of the materials used in the DN Series BEETLE can be recycled, making it an environmentally-friendly POS solution.

Online-to-offline (O2O) trends became a much bigger deal this year, as we noticed an increase in consumers ordering ahead via mobile devices or other digital channels, e.g. from home or while on the move. Especially in the convenience and quick-serve restaurant (QSR) domain, this took off at a rapid pace, fueled by the overnight changes required in the face of the pandemic. With the release of Vynamic FCx, Diebold Nixdorf now offers a cloud-based platform empowering fuel and convenience retailers to build incremental sales beyond traditional transactions at the pump, increase brand loyalty and offer greater personalization to consumers. This solution extends the cloud into stores, and broadens retailers’ capabilities to support O2O baskets, loyalty program integration, and more.

These trends will remain relevant and important during the expected economic recovery in 2021, especially as retailers look to restore their business in the first half of next year. I think we’ll see a few more trends emerge as well. 

The supply chain was disrupted—retailers must address gaps and hotspots in 2021
According to the Forrester report “Predictions 2021 for Retail” (download here), retailers will invest more in logistics than anything else for speed and flexibility. This will support speedier, more flexible delivery and micro-fulfillment centers located closer to consumers, also supporting the O2O trend and consumers’ desire to have wider product assortments that can change on the fly. In addition, mall operators are expected to change tenant fee agreements to include online sales that involve in-mall fulfillment, such as “buy online, pick up in-store,” (BOPIS) on top of traditional in-store sales. 

Fitting with the trend of low-touch and no-touch shopping, we already see that contact-less and deferred payments will break more than 50 years of US consumer payment habits. According to Forrester, back in May 2020, a staggering 19% of online adults in the US used a fully digital payment in-store for the first time during the pandemic; of those, 62% used their phones and 56% their credit cards. These numbers are expected to rise even further, as the pandemic continues in full force and people have grown accustomed to paying cashless more while becoming more technology-savvy at the same time.

In a digital world, personalization will be key
As already mentioned, authenticity is another trend that will continue in 2021. This is reflected in retailers’ desire to define and create new ways to engage with consumers. Not only via loyalty programs and discounts, but also by better anticipating what consumers need or like, e.g. by using smart segmentation and personalized targeting based on previous purchases or by matching consumers to peer groups. According to Forrester, we will see mall operators attempting to take more control of the overall mall experience by acquiring parts of their tenant portfolio, as they reinvent their business model and ‘raison d’être’. In addition, it is expected that brands will invest more in direct-to-consumer (DTC). 

Last but not least, self-service will continue to see a rise in adoption levels. This includes new “cashier-less” options in grocery stores, such as self-checkout and mobile self-scanning, the latter using either retailer-owned hand-held scanning devices or consumers’ own mobile devices. According to Forrester this requires retail leaders to be more agile, i.e. having the ability “to adapt and rapidly exploit opportunities big and small as soon as they arise.” Not only open software, but especially also modular hardware solutions can cater to this, and will offer retailers much-needed agility to adapt to changes in consumer journeys adequately. 

As we all know, “the times, they are a-changin” and retailers will have to support new types of journeys that acknowledge the reduction in physical interactions between consumers and staff while in store, whether in malls, grocery stores, fashion outlets, convenience stores or at fuel stations. To be able to flexibly support existing and new types of consumer journeys, it is important to have access to open, standards-based retail technology (hardware, software and services) that lets you flexibly integrate with other technologies already in place. Openness avoids technology lock-in and lets you easily customize services offered to meet consumers’ needs, not only for 2021 but for years to come!

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