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While year 2020 is now hindsight for us all (thank goodness), it is plain to see that the pandemic has created long-standing effects for most industries, especially health, travel, hospitality and retail. As the dust settles from a tumultuous year, we are beginning to see a path forward, even if the details have yet to emerge.

2021 and Beyond

eMarketer forecasts that ecommerce sales will grow by just more than 6% in 2021, a huge drop from the 2020 growth rate of more than 30%.[1] Yet, rather than seeing these numbers as a shortage in growth in the retail sector, it is instead a compensation for sustainable growth after a year of artificially inflated numbers created by a surge in ecommerce, in some cases, due to it being the only option for satisfying basic needs. In March of 2020, overnight virtually anything that could be sold on the internet had to be sold on the internet. While it remains to be seen if consumers will return to their pre-pandemic in-store habits, it's clear that we have entered a new era for digital retail.

The years ahead, while still wholly unpredictable, will most certainly continue to contribute to the success of digital commerce. Pre-pandemic, retail was already heading toward the future we see before us. However, today these shifts have been accelerated and are pushing an emerging renaissance of new-store concepts in the form of DTC outlets, hubs for click-and-collect and dark stores to help fuel the boom of ecommerce.

Trends Shaping the Future of Commerce

Our experts predict ten significant trends will emerge as outlined in The New Face of Retail: 10 Commerce Trends Driving the Industry. Five of these trends are centered around emerging commerce features and functionalities and the other five address sectors of the industry that are poised to skyrocket along with media that will become more prominent in everyday life.

While some brands had been experimenting with Buy Online Pick Up In Store (BOPUIS) before the pandemic, the need for it exploded in 2020. These services, which were once just a ‘nice to have’ are now considered basic convenience to many consumers and will most likely stick around in the years ahead as a permanent convenience. According to GlobalData, when asked which behaviors consumers expect to repeat once things have returned to normal, 68.2% of U.S. adults said curbside pickup, and 59.6% said in-store pickup.[2] This demonstrates that shopping methods that began as a necessity have become habits in only a year.

Additionally, as more brands look to move their communications direct to consumer (DTC), many of these efforts are being deployed on new channels like social for maximum impact. Social commerce will not only become solidified as a valuable method for brands who traditionally only reach consumers through retail partners but will also soon be a customer expectation that brands must fulfill to compete in the marketplace -- along with other new expectations like subscription options that create convenience for consumers and audience loyalty for brands. Many retailers see that while they cannot compete with Amazon Prime, they can drive demand with offers to create strong brand affinity, including free-delivery and automatic ordering, promotions for in-demand products, subscription media and digital assets as well as the combination of experiences into attractive bundles as recently seen by companies like Apple, Nike and others.

How Digital Is Impacting Every Aspect of Retail

It is important to note that the emerging trends mentioned above are especially important for retailers who are continuing to close physical retail locations in favor of a larger ecommerce presence. Many of these retailers are transforming physical shops into frictionless fulfillment locations for easy product pickup and to meet quick delivery logistics across the country.

In addition to the emerging features that are driving convenience and more seamless experiences, there has also been major movement both in terms of the industry sectors that are poised to skyrocket, as well as the media that will be more prominent in everyday life, including grocery ecommerce, DTC competition, new digital advertising players, first-party marketplaces, digital fitness programs and more.

While still so much is unknown about what the next few months and years will bring, brands need to watch these areas moving forward. How do these trends impact your brand and its retail transformation strategy? For a detailed look at the emerging consumer expectations and events, download the latest ebook from dentsu agency Merkle: The New Face of Retail: 10 Commerce Trends Driving the Industry.

[1] https://www.emarketer.com/chart/246309/us-total-retail-sales-growth-by-category-march-2019-vs-march-2021-march-2020-vs-march-2021-change

[2] https://www.globaldata.com/multichannel-retail-covid-19-report-consumer-retailer-behavior-pandemic-demonstrate-online-physical-sales-channels-form-highly-competitive-single-retail-market-according-lates/