Uniform: retailers were left in the dark in 2020 but will 2021 see any light at the end of the tunnel?

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By Scott McCubbin associate director at brand design agency Uniform

The recent list of retail collapses from the Arcadia group and Debenhams through to Karen Millen and Bonmarche rings in big changes in the retail landscape.  The shift from high street shopping to online has no doubt been accelerated by the global pandemic, however the industry has never been more supported for this change in shopping habits and the continuing move online. So given this shift in consumer behaviour, we got thinking about what trends we should expect from retailers in 2021.  

Localised experiential stores – retail brands can tap into the success of local neighbourhoods.  People are rejecting long commutes and that is here to stay. Even before the pandemic town planners were considering how society could live, work and socialise in more localised areas.  The 15 minute city concept, where every need is met within a 15 minute commute, is endorsed by Parisian Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The concept builds offices and local working hubs so people can come together to work and collaborate without commuting into the city. With cities becoming redundant, retailers need to abandon the expensive rents of huge city stores. There is an opportunity for retailers to identify new 15 min cities and service these communities with smaller stores. By offering a showcase of products and a mix of ecommerce support through click and collect, the smaller stores will become the face of the brand by focussing on experiential and creating a localised connection with their customers. 

Make sustainability central to your purpose– despite consumer priorities perhaps abandoning sustainability in 2020 the environmental demand for retailers to take action has not gone away. Next year as the pandemic fades into history, consumers will once again want to know what environmental measures retailers are taking to make the world less polluted and plastic free. In 2021 retailers must gain consumers’ respect by demonstrating best practise to create brand loyalty that ultimately leads to healthy revenue streams.

The last mile of home delivery is the most expensive mile in terms of expenditure and pollution. Couriers are currently trialling new methods of local delivery that will be more environmentally friendly, brands reducing their carbon footprint like this, will be the ones to last in decades to come.  

Buy British: Once the hallmark of quality and heritage in 2021 post brexit Made in Britain will stand for speed and reliability. The prediction of carparks of lorries in Dover as Brexit slows down imports will make British made products much more attractive. UK retailers can keep their supply chains consistent by considering stocking British products until the disruption of Brexit subsides. 

Online payment innovations– The financial repercussions of the pandemic are far and wide reaching all parts of society. Young people struggling to get on the career ladder, families whose main breadwinners have been made redundant and those in hospitality are just a small group who will be hit hard. Retailers can help their customers by adopting online payment plans such as Klarna. We’re already seeing the rise of renting – from renting apartments to renting furniture and other goods for your home – aka John Lewis and othersDividing payments into monthly payments will take the pressure from customers, while giving retail businesses the security of incoming revenue. 

Keep it clean – COVID has highlighted the importance of hygienic environments. The public has become highly sensitive to germs,  social distancing and cleanliness. Next year we will all expect to see spotless shops and hospitality even after the COVID vaccine has done its job. Retailers can create a trusted reputation  by ensuring the cleaning regimes adopted in 2020 continue. Now changing rooms are closed retailers can create new policies such as a two week payment window when purchasing clothes in anticipation that some will be returned. This will make the customer feel more comfortable purchasing a number of items with the intention of returning the items that don’t fit.  

2021 will be another year of dramatic change for retailers as they adapt to a new post-covid world, but ensuring customers feel as comfortable as possible, through easy access, a strong purpose,  financial support and clean environments will usher a new positive normality and a prosperous new year.