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4 Retail Industry Trends to Watch in 2021


December 4, 2020

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Ten months into the pandemic, and counting, it’s clear that not only have people’s day-to-day habits changed, but so have their overall lifestyles.

The way they spend their disposable income isn’t the same. The way they spend their time isn’t the same. Their interactions with other people have undergone a radical shift, as has the way they work. With this “new normal” comes a slew of novel opportunities retailers can — and must — use to their advantage. Here are four trends they should bear in mind in the coming year as they strive to reinvent themselves.

People first

“There’s this enormous need right now for us to reclaim our humanity,” says JoAnne Labrecque, Associate Professor in HEC Montréal’s Department of Marketing.

“Lockdown restrictions and social distancing have all but deprived us of human contact. This in turn has prompted many of us to reassess our priorities and seek out a more authentic connection with the people around us and how we relate to them. Companies are seeing this with their employees, too: they feel a real need to find meaning in what they’re doing.”

“For some, this reassessment also stems from the concerns they have about the health of our economy,” adds Dr. Labrecque. “Concepts like buying local, zero waste and minimalism have grown in popularity in the wake of the pandemic as people yearn for a greater sense of unity, self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability.”

The civic-minded retailer

Retailers are in a unique position to fill this need for authenticity and meaning. “Beyond delivering a customer experience and an assortment of products, retailers can make a tangible contribution to individual well-being and quality of life,” says Dr. Labrecque.

Some retailers decide to give back to their community by making in-kind donations, raising funds for charity or coming up with activities to keep kids engaged and entertained.

With more and more consumers opting to do business with companies that share their community and social responsibility values, retailers should be giving serious consideration to refreshing and promoting their identity, their corporate values and the impact their employees have on quality of life in their community.

Agility and responsiveness

The repercussions of the pandemic continue to disrupt our lifestyles and our supply chains. But retailers have responded with resiliency and adaptability from day one.

“At the heart of this responsiveness is a commitment to valuing your employees, working hand in hand with them and giving them more of a say in how things are done,” Dr. Labrecque points out.

Involving employees from every level of the organization in the co-creation process is vital to finding better solutions faster and keeping your staff for longer.

Technology and the customer journey

E-commerce has surged during the pandemic, and many consumers have said they will continue to shop online even after things get back to normal.

“Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly important role in retailers’ operations. Beyond online shopping, it is helping to optimize processes and better manage the customer journey,” says Dr. Labrecque.

Machine-to-machine communications technology makes it possible to compile, structure and analyze consumer data via a wide range of connected objects. This data is the key to personalizing the customer experience.

Bespoke discounts targeting members of a rewards program based on their purchase history is only one example of how technology can be leveraged to secure customer loyalty

These new trends are among the issues explored in Executive Education HEC Montréal’s retail management certification program. Participants will learn about the various tools available to help them adjust their strategic approach in line with these new realities from a logistical, digital, team management and leadership perspective.

Certification in Retail Operations, starting January 19, 2021!

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