The most overlooked retail trends of 2021

After 12 months, it’s time they get their due.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

Last week, we reminisced on the year’s most overhyped trends. But what about the ones that were under the radar? After 12 months, it’s time they get their due.

Here are the most overlooked retail trends of 2021, according to retail experts and insiders.

Mind the store

Remember we told you e-comm was overdone? Too bad it’s been at the expense of IRL shopping.

“It’s ironic that the store hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should,” Rob Garf, VP and GM of retail at Salesforce, told Retail Brew. We’ve all lived in a digital world for some 20 months, including online shopping, he noted—“but it makes the store even more important.”

  • 60% of e-comm sales are “influenced” by brick and mortar, Garf said, citing Salesforce data.

Claire Tassin, a retail and e-commerce analyst at Morning Consult, agrees: “It’s gotten kind of easy to forget that more people say they prefer to shop in stores than shop online. And most retail is still very much a brick-and-mortar business, despite everything.”

Shared experiences

To that end, how the in-store experience is changing also deserves a closer look.

“Claiming an experience-first retail model has been trendy for the past several years, but it’s rare to see companies lean in all the way,” said Victoria Wells, associate strategy director at R/GA. “Consumers don’t need to go to stores, but they want to.”

  • She shouted out Dick’s Sporting Goods’ House of Sport as a great example of going all in: It features a turf field and track, a rock-climbing wall, a batting cage, and even baseball-glove steaming and racket stringing.

Garf added that shifting the store from a “checkout event” to a “check-in process, allowing the associate to engage with the shopper” is key. While Tassin echoed that “being able to prioritize space for service and getting some help with making decisions and browsing and discovery” has been part of rethinking IRL spaces (in addition to click-and-collect services).

Ad(d) it up

Who saw the retail media network space having a moment?

Nate Shenck, North America retail leader at Boston Consulting Group, told us in an email it’s been a “major year” for the space. “Many large retailers have launched businesses utilizing their vast consumer data to become advertising platforms and sellers, rather than purchasers,” he noted.

  • Lowe’s, for example, unveiled its own retail media network in October, joining the ranks of Macy’s, Dollar Tree, and Best Buy.
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The strategy is a win-win, experts expect: It offers retailers another avenue for $$, while brands can lure in more customers via targeted ads.

The trend should only pick up from here. “It’s going to be something that we are talking much more about, as retailers are really marrying in-store shopping data with online shopping data and having a really compelling value of the ability to leverage that data in media ecosystems that so many of our big retailers are spinning up,” Tassin said.

Speaking of data, Garf told us the death of the third-party cookie was another overlooked trend this year.

“I don’t think the real change that will be required by retailers has been covered as in-depth as it probably should be—given that it will have a dramatic impact on how marketers are thinking about acquiring new customers and retaining loyal customers.” (Though, we will shout out Marketing Brew’s guide to the third-party cookie here.)—JS

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