Our take on E-Commerce 360's 2021 "5 Retail Predictions"
Written by: Wesley, COO
New Store designs
Goodbye mallrats, hello fulfillment centers?
Online shopping gets human
If you haven’t caught Peter Shelden’s 5 Predictions for 2021 yet, it’s a pretty solid distillation of how Covid has taken some major trends that were already in play in e-commerce and rocketed them into the atmosphere.
Two points have been on the radar for ages now, Delivery and Subscriptions. It turns out that when people literally might die if they go to the store, they tend to get things delivered more often. This pushed both people and organizations to adapt. People that might not be so tech savvy or didn’t live where they could get things delivered suddenly had to figure out how to order online or new services were created to serve them. And organizations that lacked infrastructure to provide deliveries had to figure out how to make it work. These customer behaviors, delivery systems and infrastructure are here to stay.
Subscriptions and other payment models have been becoming more prevalent every year. The question of whether people would be willing to pay for more than one streaming service has been answered. At least when they’re stuck at home for 10 months anyway. Disney+ doesn’t seem like such a gamble anymore. Quibi might be the exception that proves the rule, consumers are ‘more comfortable with paying for value over time,’ as Sheldon put it. Even the traditional transactional ‘give me your money and you get this thing’ model is changing. What used to be called ‘lay away’ and was stigmatized is now commonplace and part of an ecosystem that keeps you coming back for the next new thing. Anyone else looking at the new Apple Watch?
Two other points are less glaring examples of things that were already happening, but have been accelerated during the pandemic. Stores are redesigning their layouts to be more experiential. Startups like Situ Live were already popping up as consumer shopping behaviors, attitudes and appetites have been evolving. From their site, ‘Live presenters will bring to life the best products. Whilst our knowledgeable advisors will help you understand them better and guide you to the best places to buy online.’ That sounds a bit more fun than a Walmart that looks a lot like an airport.
Goodbye mallrats, hello… mall-automated-box-filling-robots? It's hard to argue with the logic behind it, though
The one that struck me as the most remarkable was the trend in malls shifting from large Sears & JC Penneys stores to fulfillment centers. Goodbye mallrats, hello… mall-automated-box-filling-robots? It's hard to argue with the logic behind it, though. As delivery rates increase, last mile infrastructure needs to scale up to become more cost effective, etc, etc. It’s just strikingly indicative of the changing times and the consequences of how technology, customer behavior and how matter travels through space are interacting to shape the future.
Lastly, another trend that existed before the end times, but has increased the rate of adoption exponentially, video calls. The pandemic is the origin story of everyone’s true nemesis of 2020, the mute button. Both the business world and everyone else went remote, so more people were forced to use video to connect with colleagues, friends and family. E-commerce and retail at large are adapting, giving people the ability to talk to someone face to face online while they’re shopping. Like delivery, this is another trend that's not going anywhere. People are adapting to making connections through screens. Get your questions answered, develop trust, reduce the likelihood of having to return something, there’s not much downside for the consumer. Why not make online shopping more human?
People are adapting to making connections through screens.
I suspect that, like most predictions based on prominent tech trends, at the end of 2021, these will be pretty obvious. But it’ll be interesting to say the least to see how this year plays out. Here’s hoping box-filling-robots wandering around malls is the most exciting thing that happens.