At the start of 2020, as I put pen to paper for my 7th annual “Retail Trends to Watch,” I wrote:
“…the overall consumer ‘vibe’ is positive – in fact, very positive. The consumer feels good. The consumer is eating out. Shopping. Traveling. Investing. Smiling. Spending. Unemployment is low. Inflation is low. Trade agreements with China (and others) seem to be heading in a positive direction. The stock market is up (way up). There are many jobs – new and different kinds of jobs – in the market. Exciting, and yet makes me wary given the last time it all felt ‘this good.’”
Then, we were all asked to “work from home for two weeks.”
And, of course, the rest of 2020 played out amidst a global pandemic. “Vision 2020” will be unforgettable for reasons no one ever expected.
The coronavirus outbreak caused most retailers to temporarily shutter, keeping shoppers away, and forcing retailers to negotiate with landlords and suppliers to tackle unplanned inventory and liquidity issues. On top of that, the forces that pushed dozens of retailers into bankruptcy over the last several years remained present. We all have seen the shutdown and reopen charts and trends so no need to rehash. And, while many said they “couldn’t wait to say goodbye to 2020,” there are some that had a good, and even a great, year.
Looking ahead, we’ll call this Vision 2021. For those that survive and thrive, technology will be at the heart of all parts of the business. Not that technology wasn’t a priority in the past, but with the tensions fueled in 2020, technology investments will be a must for every retailer that didn’t already accelerate investments during the pandemic – from supply chain, e-commerce and store operations, to merchandising, marketing and shopper engagement.
Last year, I defined two types of priorities, timely and timeless. Timely includes today’s priorities given reopening priorities, shifts in consumer preferences, technology available now, and technology efforts that “must” be accelerated to give the business a chance to grow. Timeless are new ways of working that, once implemented, become part of the ongoing fabric of running the operation: new solutions that modernize how we do business and enable long-term value creation, new multi-year organizational staffing models, mergers and acquisitions.
With this mental model in mind, let’s review the retail tech trends to watch in 2021.