Best Selling Author Shep Hyken On the Future of Brick and Mortar Retail

This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of Brick and Mortar Retail series featuring interviews with industry experts and thought leaders with the goal of providing actionable insights that can help brick and mortar retailers prepare for what lies ahead.

The following is an interview we had with Shep Hyken, NYT Best Selling Business Author.

What are the 3-5 top trends that will shape brick and mortar retail in 2021?

Continued emphasis on health and safety

There will be a major emphasis on health and safety in response to COVID-19,, as we’ve already seen. Heading into 2021, it’s going to be more important than ever that companies, especially brick-and-mortar retailers, create a safe and healthy environment that instills confidence in their customers.

Increased adoption of cashless checkout

Brick-and-mortar retailers will increasingly implement cashless checkout systems to better accommodate health and safety concerns—as well as convenience demands—that many of today’s consumers have.

Retailers will be present both online and offline

It will be critical for traditionally-offline retailers to adopt an online presence—otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for them to stay afloat. The trend isn’t a full pivot to online-only retail, but rather an addition to their offline commerce offerings.

There are ways to engage consumers online that bring them into your physical store. You can let them preview available merchandise, show them what they can expect when they come to your stores, or even book appointments to visit your store.

Retailers will cater to mission shoppers

Is your location part of a bigger footprint, like a mall? Or is it it’s own destination that shoppers are traveling to?

Moving into 2021, shoppers will be less leisurely about their shopping trips. This means that wandering malls as a social outing, especially indoor malls, will be less appealing. Shoppers will be more intentional about what physical locations they’re visiting.

BOPIS will continue its ascent

The option for shoppers to buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) has been around for a few years. However, what was a breakthrough offering years ago has now become a consumer expectation. Retailers’ BOPIS systems will become more efficient and continue to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping.

The return process will become more convenient.

Returning items needs to be as easy as purchasing in order for brick and mortar retailers to compete with the likes of Amazon. Curbside returns are just one way that retailers may enhance the convenience of their return processes.

This convenience, part of retailers’ dedication to health and safety, are critical to establishing brand loyalty today.

What technologies will have the biggest impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021?

Cashless checkout

Cashless technologies enhance health, safety, and convenience. This makes them an essential technology.

Next-gen online systems

Brick and mortar stores will need to update their online shopping experiences to allow consumers to evaluate merchandise and inventory online before going to the physical store to purchase. Some will also shift to offer direct online purchasing.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

Increased access to virtual and augmented reality technologies means people can shop, try on, and evaluate products digitally in a more realistic way than ever. They can then go into the store and know exactly what they want after ensuring that the items are in stock.

What should brick and mortar retailers be doing now to prepare 2021?

Implement next-level personalization 

Retailers will need to level up their personalization in 2021. They should implement a CRM-type of software to help them understand who their customer is and what they’ve purchased in the past. The software may also personalize suggestions to create a stronger emotional bond with that person. Not only does the greater depth of customer understanding help retailers get closer to a sale, but customers are also likely to return to places where they feel known and understood. 

Prioritize health and safety

Health and safety can’t be emphasized enough in 2021. It’s critical to implement protocols that are very obvious to the customer. Internal protocols should be designed to support the staff, while external processes should be communicated to guests through various channels before and during their visit to a store. Messaging can include emails, SMS messages, storefront or window displays, and in-store signage.

Provide convenience

Convenience was once deployed as a differentiator, a way to stand out among competitors. But now, convenience has moved beyond breakthrough and trend cycles and has now reached the level of a standard expectation.

Customers expect that you’re going to have a fast way to deliver, replace, or refund merchandise. We’re finding that because brick and mortar retailers have to compete with goliaths like Amazon, they’ve implemented highly-flexible return policies. Returns need to be as easy as the purchase because they are part of the larger question of, “do I want to do business with this company again?”

Fostering loyalty

Loyalty today is being dictated by all of the above-mentioned trends. Convenience, health and safety, and personalization are all key pillars of driving brand loyalty. If retailers don’t offer a product the customer wants, they not only risk losing the customer on that sale, they risk the customer never returning at all.

As soon as a customer walks into a store for the first time and has a positive experience, it creates a relationship that propels loyalty.

The caveat is that a lot of retailers confuse repeat business with loyalty. Repeat business can happen simply because you have competitive prices and abundant merchandise. What may still be lacking is the emotional connection that drives loyalty.

If your customers fear for their safety or they’re inconvenienced, they may feel driven into the doors of another retailer.

In the midst of so much change and uncertainty, what does the future of brick and mortar retail look like?

SH: I think when we get our vaccines and people are comfortable, we’re going to go back to feeling comfortable about going to physical retail locations. However, shoppers now fully understand the benefits that online retailers provide. That’s why I think it’s important for even small boutiques that don’t have a major presence online to at least make themselves available virtually on some level.

The door for online shopping has opened so wide that retailers are going to lose a large percentage of customers to online sales. That doesn’t mean we’re going to lose them doing business with us—we’re just not going to see them walking through our physical stores.

There are now people who had never bought groceries online until March of this year. And they like it so much. They’re going to continue to buy from the same grocery store, but they just won’t go back into the store that they once went to.


Because they don’t have to anymore. They saw how easy online purchasing can be.

It’s really important for all of us to look at what we can do to make it as easy as possible for the customer to do business with us, in the way they want to do business with us. If we can meet their current expectations, they’ll keep coming back.