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 Rachel LaConti, Senior Manager of Location Partnerships, Happy Returns.
What are the 3-5 top trends that will shape brick and mortar retail in 2021?
RL: The pandemic caused a historic shift in the retail landscape this year, including a massive spike in eCommerce sales. To account for this, expect to see creative methods of increasing foot traffic to encourage people to come shop in person. This may include:
1. Omnichannel offerings, like Buy Online, Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup. In order to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping experiences – and to accommodate those who want to spend less time in store – convenient offerings will become the norm. This is true for returns as well. Merchants that allow online shoppers to return in person, whether to their own brick-and-mortar stores or to a third-party drop-off location, will have the greatest chance at increasing loyalty through convenience.
2. Offering unique in-store services to increase foot traffic will be important in 2021. Despite the spike in eCommerce, we’re still seeing shoppers crave in-store experiences. Paper Source hosts Happy Returns Return Bars, for example, allowing shoppers from other merchants to drop off returns at their locations without needing a box or label. A recent academic study validated the service, showing that new Paper Source customers that were sourced via the Return Bar channel spend 21% more than existing patrons. They also return to stores later without a return, simply to buy Paper Source items.
3. Companies will start to charge for returns by mail. As all major carriers raised their rates in 2020 to accommodate the increase in eCommerce shipments, merchants will need to find a way to counteract those costs. While we know that shoppers expect at least one free option for returning items, no one ever said that option had to be mail returns. Instead, we’re seeing more and more retailers charge for returns by mail while offering free and convenient returns to their store or a third-party drop-off like Happy Returns.
What technologies will have the biggest impact on brick and mortar retail in 2021?
RL: When it comes to technology advancements in retail, expect tech that enables contactless transactions to take center stage in 2021. Touch-free experiences became important to both shoppers and store associates during the pandemic, causing a rise in the usage of things like digital wallets. Happy Returns transitioned to a completely contact-free in-person return process this year, through the use of QR codes. Now, shoppers hold up their phones so the Returnista can scan the code and pull up their information. They then bag their items themselves and place them in a cardboard-free reusable tote for bulk shipping.
What should brick and mortar retailers be doing now to prepare for 2021?
RL: The first major focus of the new year should be managing returns since January is the month when holiday returns really start pouring in. Holiday return rates will be even higher this year due to increased e-commerce shopping triggered by the pandemic. Since those online purchases can still come back to your store, merchants should make sure their in-person return process is as convenient as possible.
To encourage in-store returns (which are much cheaper than paying shipping rates for returns by mail), many merchants offer special deals that can be applied for future in-store purchases. To lower costs even further, consider a service like Happy Returns’ in-person drop-offs, which aggregate items to ship in bulk, avoiding expensive individual shipments.
In the midst of so much change and uncertainty, what’s the future of brick and mortar retail look like?
RL: An omnichannel approach will likely be the best recipe for success, with a strong focus on digital. Customers are more likely to shop if they’re provided with multiple options to create an experience that is the most comfortable and convenient for them.