Insider Trends Founder Cate Trotter 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 Cate Trotter, founder and head of trends at Insider Trends.

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

CT: The trend towards locally-focused stores will continue. A lot of customers have reported a desire to continue to shop locally after they’ve been vaccinated, and many are likely to carry on working from home part-time or full-time. As such, retailers will increasingly be curating and tailoring stores to a local area rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to their portfolios. A great example of this is Nike which continues to open new store formats that are more local customer-focused.

Partnerships may also come into play more. Recently we’ve seen Next trialing click-and-collect and return hubs in Morrisons car parks of Morrisons. Sephora is now putting mini-shops into Kohl’s. Ulta Beauty is doing the same with Target. Kohl’s already has an existing tie-up with Amazon that turns its stores into Amazon returns points. I think all retailers are looking at how to maximise the value of real estate while reducing costs. By partnering with another company, smaller brands can offer something they don’t already have, such as additional access points or delivery hubs. Retailers with large store footprints or car parking facilities can boost revenue by renting that space to others.

We’re expecting resale to be a major trend for 2021 – across categories such as fashion, furniture and electronics. Online resale has exploded – next year we expect that more physical spaces will embrace it. Globetrotter now sells second-hand goods in stores in Germany. Levi’s has a new London concept store with an exclusive range of repaired, reimagined and recycled Levi’s products. Resale also lends itself well to subscriptions and memberships – customers could pay to access rare or vintage items, and receive credit or bonuses when they resell their own unwanted products.

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

CT: Livestreaming will continue to be a big growth area. Some new stores have opened with livestreaming areas – adding theatre and promoting the brand’s online engagement. 

More brands will better connect digital and physical. Hero is a fantastic service that connects customers browsing online with in-store staff. Many brands utilised it during the pandemic, and we expect many more to sign up in 2021, as it has great ROI. It also shows retailers that stores can serve customers in different ways – it can become a showroom and service space for online customers.

We may see technologies like these impact staff hiring and training. If employees need to communicate and broadcast over video and digital, retailers will look for people with good digital and speaking skills. A number of brands, including Sephora, Dunkin’ and Anta Sports, have appointed approved brand ambassadors who post content to TikTok and other platforms.

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

CT: It’s important to realise that vaccines won’t change things overnight. Covid will still affect much of 2021 – it will take time for most customers to be vaccinated, feel confident, and return to pre-pandemic shopping behaviours. 

As such, click and collect will remain popular, so retailers should adapt their stores and processes for faster, simpler collections. When online orders are fulfilled using local store inventory, they can be fulfilled faster and cheaper, boosting customer loyalty and spend. We expect the see the blended store and fulfilment model enter the mainstream in 2021.

Further improving omnichannel experiences will help too, of course. Customers are well aware that everything can be done online – research, price checking, ordering – and they expect this to carry over in the store. At the bare minimum, customers should be able to live check store inventory before they go to the shop. In this climate, no-one wants to risk wasted trips to the store.

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

CT: Expect to see more digital-first brands move offline. As Covid caused many retail units to close, spaces are now cheaper and more attractive to online brands.

Brick and mortar retail will be less important for immediate selling, and more important for relationship building and marketing. Online ads have become vastly more expensive – stores may now be the cheaper method to connect with customers.

As physical and digital become more connected, physical spaces will get smaller, more experiential, and more flexible. These provide better ROI and let brands future-proof themselves in ever less certain futures.