Expert Insights: 2021 Trends in Retail & eCommerce

In spite of the COVID pandemic and global supply chain disruption, many retailers survived and thrived during 2020. Now, we’re looking ahead to trends for 2021, building on the hard-won lessons of the 2020 peak season.  

We’re eagerly watching to see how shifting consumer behavior patterns impact retail and eCommerce going forward, shaped by peoples’ experiences during product shortages and shut downs.

Consumers have been understanding of shipping challenges, up to a point. In our post-holiday survey, 47% of respondents said they’re unlikely to shop with a retailer again after a bad shipping experience. Consumers expectations are higher, and will get higher. If you’re not Amazon, you’re likely playing catchup.

To help you prepare for 2021 and beyond, we tapped the collective smarts of some of the team at Convey to learn what they’re keeping an eye on in the coming year. 

What do you think will happen for retailers & eCommerce in 2021?

“If COVID spikes continue through 2021, we could see brick and mortar retailers require reservations, just as restaurants do today, to better manage capacity limits and fend off shutting down stores entirely. Limiting the number of people allowed in a store at any given time would give consumers the confidence to visit the store as infection risk looms and reservations provide the added benefit of built-in contract tracing. ” – Amy Crow, Head of Communications and Content

“We’ll see a BIG focus on convenience. You saw some of the trends last year with shifts to curbside pickup etc. Amazon is now delivering shipments inside my garage. Now you have groceries delivered to your trunk, and locker pickups are emerging. Convenience will be a big theme for how retailers get their products to their customers.” – Carson Krieg, co-founder and Director of Strategic Partnership

“Last mile is finally going to have its moment. There’s been rumblings and interest in this sector of the supply chain for a while, but the pandemic has really shown a light on just how inefficient and susceptible to disruption this area is. I predict we will see a disproportionate amount of investment going into solutions to problems that were highlighted in 2020. – Kassidy Bird, Director of Marketing at Convey

“I predict more innovation of the retail space from temporary pop-up shops, smaller experiential spaces, and redesigned layouts to support faster shipping from stores.”  – Jenny Bebout, co-founder and VP of Product

“Marketers will start to capitalize on opportunities within the delivery experience to engage their customers via different channels; email will evolve to SMS which will evolve to social media. Delivery milestones will be an unobtrusive way to promote the brand, push relevant content, drive shoppers back to their site and generate net new revenue, all while providing updates to the original order.” – Michael Streitberger, Head of Strategic Partnerships

What COVID changes will stick around?

“Carrier diversification is now not only a nice to have but a necessity. Fedex and UPS turning away shipment volumes in Q4 and surcharging for volume overages is not sustainable when retailers have time to prepare and better diversify their network. ‘Hyper local’ is the new norm as retailers developed a better understanding of their local inventory and ship-from-store capabilities. Service providers have emerged for shipments going less than 100 miles where Fedex and UPS don’t make sense.”  – Carson Krieg, co-founder and Director of Strategic Partnerships

“Resiliency will be a huge focus in 2021. The pandemic has caused work disruptions, inventory shortages, and carrier capacity constraints that have exposed the extreme risk posed by non-resilient final mile networks. Going forward, retailers will be working to make sure they aren’t as exposed to this risk. Whether that means adding more carriers, more flexible inventory locations, or adding curbside pickup options, shippers want to be ready for whatever disruptions come next.” – Coleman Newell, Senior Data Scientist 

“The vast changes in the brick-and-mortar landscape will not only impact retailers, but consumers as well. Seemingly overnight, consumers who were once slow to adopt digital shopping experiences accelerated their tolerance timeline and quickly made the adjustment. I think this forced change has allowed people to appreciate the convenience of experiences such as at-home grocery delivery and curbside pickup. Ultimately our purchase behaviors and expectations have changed and I don’t think this is going anywhere.” – Lacy Harvey, Senior Product Marketing Manager

“We saw a huge spike with dry and perishable food being ordered online with stay at home orders. I think many of us realized the convenience of food delivery and will opt for ordering online vs visiting retail stores or restaurants.” – Jenny Bebout, co-founder and VP of Product

“Manufacturers were presented with a golden opportunity in 2020 to move away from a predominantly D2B model and launch a D2C business. You saw manufacturers cut out the middleman, build an eCommerce presence, and offer their product lines directly to their end consumers. This trend isn’t going anywhere. Buying habits have changed for good, so manufacturers will continue to rely less on selling through other retailers, and expand their D2C eCommerce business.” – Michael Streitberger, Head of Strategic Partnerships

What trends are you watching for Convey customers?

“How can we help? Convey is sitting on so much network data and insights. Retailers don’t have to figure this out on their own; they can leverage our data and expertise to implement new strategies in 2021. There are low-risk high-reward opportunities and new service providers to test out as you go beyond single- sourcing your carrier relationships.” – Carson Krieg, co-founder and Director of Strategic Partnerships

“With more delivery options than ever before, retailers are now able to incentivize methods that make the most sense for their business. That could mean encouraging grouping deliveries to prevent waste, offering discounts on slower delivery methods that reduce cost and environmental impact, or even hosting eCommerce sales events that are ‘store pick up only’ during peak to avoid surcharges and capacity limits.” – Coleman Newell, Senior Data Scientist

“Expanded real-time (point on a map) package tracking. Amazon already offers a ‘number of stops away’ tracking experience for many orders. Will Amazon actually execute on real-time tracking? Consumers are beginning to expect this because of other same-day delivery and rideshare services.” – Jenny Bebout, co-founder and VP of Product

“Data and analytics will continue to be paramount for optimizing the eCommerce experience, retaining customers, and growing revenue efficiently. There is an intersection of how customers behave pre-purchase, how the delivery experience impacts their perception of the brand, and how things like carrier performance and returns inform a retailer’s eCommerce strategy. Whoever can harness and manipulate that data into a cohesive story will have the advantage in truly knowing who their customers are, what products will thrive, and how to set up a best-in-class delivery ecosystem.” – Michael Streitberger, Head of Strategic Partnerships

As a consumer, what improvements are you looking for? 

“I’ve been a big fan of retailers who are beginning to display their environmental impact. I want more transparency as a consumer. Allbirds now prints their carbon footprint on some of their shoes – how awesome is that? I think about the number of cardboard boxes from Amazon sitting in landfills and want to move towards more environmentally friendly options. I think retailer transparency is the only way to accelerate this movement.”  – Carson Krieg, co-founder and Director of Strategic Partnerships

“I would love to see retailers implement a stronger humanitarian approach. So many people were negatively impacted by the struggles and pitfalls presented during the pandemic, so I’d love to see a surge of generosity emerge where we can collectively raise up others through acts of kindness and giving.” – Lacy Harvey, Senior Product Marketing Manager

“I’m hoping for brands and retailers to move more quickly on zero-waste initiatives. The product packaging and shipping boxes are excessive to deal with as a consumer and wasteful for our environment. How might you create a unique experience receiving your order without all of the boxes? I challenge you, retailers and delivery carriers.” – Jenny Bebout, co-founder and VP of Product

“Tighter delivery date and time accuracy earlier in the buying journey. Winners and losers will be dictated by how efficiently you can place inventory in the right places and how quickly you can get that inventory to a customer’s door. If the item arrives within 15 minutes of when you told me when I purchased it, your online store is the first place I am going for my next purchase.” – Michael Streitberger, Head of Strategic Partnerships

As retailers adapt to whatever the normal will be for 2021, it’s clear real-time visibility is critical to meeting customer expectations for delivery excellence. Customers will reward those companies that deliver the comfort of shipping transparency as well as on-time delivery.

About the Author

Convey

Convey is an agile team of supply chain and technology professionals. Bringing entirely new data intelligence and real-time visibility, Convey helps companies maintain a strong brand with their customers and unlocks true growth potential. Convey on LinkedIn