From the Experts: The Best Advice for Retailers in 2021


Heather Hudson

January 07, 2021

As we cap off one of the most unforgettable years in memory, individuals and retailers alike are looking ahead to 2021 with a unique mix of uncertainty and optimism.

Will adaptations like curbside pick-up and more robust online operations still be necessary when the pandemic has passed? What will consumers expect in a post-pandemic marketplace? What life-improving technologies are 'in store' for us next?

Let’s look to some experts for retail advice and predictions about what consumers are going to care about most in 2021.

Adam Toporek – President, CTS Service Solutions and Customer Service Author, Trainer

“In 2021, my number one piece of CX advice for retailers is to approach strategic planning and experience design with maximum adaptability and flexibility in mind. Organizations need to prepare for multiple outcomes and differing timelines for those outcomes. While journey mapping every alternative would not be realistic (or wise), organizations can use existing journey maps and customer data to game plan multiple scenarios.

The many questions around the timing, reach, and impact of COVID-19 vaccines make projections difficult at best. Having flexible budgets and operational plans, as well as preparing for multiple CX end games, will be crucial to maintaining experience levels in 2021.”

Carol Spieckerman – President, Spieckerman Retail

“My best advice for retailers in 2021 is to lean into choice and mind the migration between convenience and safety. Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, smart retailers learned that they can’t force consumers into ways of shopping that are easier for the retailer to execute or even more profitable. They must be in the business of providing choice, or risk shoppers jumping off to another platform. No two shoppers define convenience the same way and even the same shopper can look at it differently depending on the category being shopped or even the time of day.

Choice and convenience were inextricably linked before COVID-19 and now, the same options that drive convenience enable safety. This is good news for retailers that built up portfolios of convenience alternatives because once COVID-19 winds down, convenience will once again take precedence. Well-equipped retailers will be able to flex with consumers as priorities and motivations shift. In a post-COVID world, retailers would be wise to continue to focus on safety and convenience within brick and mortar to inspire confidence as shoppers return to stores in greater numbers.”

Tyson Cornell – U.S. Consumer Markets Leader, PwC

In a blog post for Total Retail, Cornell advised retailers to focus on protecting consumers online and off.

“While 71 percent of consumers overall are confident their online transactions are secure, less than half (49 percent) of Gen Z consumers trust retailers with their data. In order for brands to foster trust with a new generation of shoppers, they need to think proactively about data privacy policies and cybersecurity.

Adopting a strong cyber infrastructure before threat actors encroach on vulnerable shoppers is a worthwhile investment for retailers when it comes to protecting customers and earning their trust… and it’s certainly more cost effective than a data breach.”

Diane J. Brisebois, President and CEO of Retail Council of Canada

In an interview with Retail Insider, Brisebois predicted that technology will play a pivotal role in in the future of Canada’s retail sector:

“We’ve seen e-commerce grow in four months [in 2020] as quickly as we had anticipated it would grow over a period of 18 to 24 months. That has accelerated the need for retailers to invest in technologies that allow them to better serve their customers in all their channels. And it allows them to adapt, specifically in the brick and mortar environment, to a social distancing reality. So those tools are going to be important moving forward and we believe they will be staples as the sector continues to adapt to a new reality.”

Peter Sheldon – Senior Director of Strategy, Adobe

In a late-2020 blog post, Sheldon predicted how things will change for retailers in 2021:

“Adobe Analytics predicts that 2020 will be a banner year for ecommerce, with $189 billion being spent online during the holiday shopping season (up 33% year over year). And 2021 also promises to be a profitable year for digitally native merchants. Several key business and technology trends are emerging or have already taken shape and it’s wise to consider them as 2020 ends.”

Sheldon's top five predictions: • More retailers will partner with “last-mile” delivery companies to fulfill online orders • Retailers will continue to explore rentals, subscription, and even trade-in services • Storefronts will be converted into fulfillment hubs • Retailers will blend online and in-store shopping by introducing a hybrid model that “transforms a retail space into an experience center” • Retailers will expand into video chats as a consultation or sales tool

Bernard Marr – Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Strategic Business & Technology Advisor

In an article for Forbes, Marr broke down the five biggest retail trends in 2021, including the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI).

“AI-driven big data retailing has been maturing for some years now, with major retailers relying on advanced analytics to understand what should be stocked in their stores and drive efficiencies in logistics. Newer developments have seen this technology moving from back-of-house to front-of-house, with customer-facing initiatives such as chatbots and virtual assistants. Likewise, while robots have been hanging out in warehouses and stock rooms for a while, assisting with inventory management, in 2021, we can expect to see them taking to the shop floor too.

AI-powered voice recognition technology has improved to the point where it can truly be used to add value both in-store and via e-commerce apps. Just as it is becoming increasingly common to use our voices to control our devices or search the internet, we will increasingly use them to get information and make purchases, and retailers will adapt their infrastructure to fit these changing habits.”

Shopify Future of Commerce in 2021 Report

Shopify analyzed their data from more than 1 million merchants around the world and took insights from their customers to reveal five key predictions for businesses in 2021 and beyond:

• “Young consumers will change the business landscape as ecommerce charges ahead. • Physical retail as we know it will transform, giving local businesses new advantages. • Consumers want to shop independent. Businesses will adapt to make that easier. • More consumers will vote with their wallets. • Modern financial solutions will disrupt business and consumer banking, financing, and lending. Providing options that traditional banks don't offer, financial solutions that prioritize speed and access to capital, faster ways to pay, and more flexible payments like installments are growing in popularity among businesses and consumers.”

No matter what unfolds in 2021, retailers who survived 2020 will bring resilience, adaptability, and strong survival instincts to the new year.

Consumers are always going to consume—it’s up to you to deliver the right products and services at the right time, in the right way.

What’s your plan?

This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not an exhaustive review of this topic. The content is not financial or investment advice. No professional relationship of any kind is formed between you and PayBright. While we have obtained or compiled this information from sources we believe to be reliable, we cannot and do not guarantee its accuracy. We recommend that you consult your personal finance professional before taking any action related to this information. PayBright is a provider of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) solutions. BNPL providers offer plans with a variety of terms and conditions, including interest rates, fees, and penalties, and have different standards for qualifying for loans. Laws and regulations governing BNPL providers vary by jurisdiction. We recommend that you compare and contrast plans, read the fine print, and conduct detailed research into any BNPL provider before using their services.

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Heather Hudson

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