COVID-19 Resources

RETHINK Retail Editor in Chief Julia Raymond On The Future of Brick and Mortar Retail

Jan 20, 2021

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 Julia Raymond, Editor in Chief, RETHINK Retail.

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

JR: Behind the brick-and-mortar trends I predict in 2021, there are two overarching drivers: convenience and safety. First, consumer demand for convenience in retail is not new; the demand has been steadily increasing in parallel with all things digital since the birth of online commerce. When the pandemic hit, everyone was blindsided and any corny marketing plays on “2020 vision” came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, the desire for convenience reached all-time highs. Why? Because convenience was, and will continue to be, tied to the second driver: safety. A heightened focus on safety has reflected in consumer behavior. Shopping as an activity shifted away from discovery and almost fully to intent-based purchases. BOPIS, curbside pickup and “ship from store” options went from a nice to have to a service critical for survival. Amazingly, many retailers rolled out these solutions at a mind-blowing pace. 

With convenience and safety in mind as the foundational drivers, the top 3 trends that I predict will shape brick-and-mortar in 2021 include:

1. Dedicated shared spaces (not pop-ups): When I was predicting 2020 retail trends, “unexpected partnerships” was at the top of my list. And it’s come true with too many examples to name, many out of necessity. Most recently, I think of Sephora’s partnership with Instacart and then with Kohl’s following Target’s partnership announcement with ULTA beauty. These partnerships signal a move away from the “pop up” trend and towards dedicated shared spaces that create synergies among the retailers and convenience for consumers.

2. Health and wellness retail: Retail operators will have the opportunity for redevelopment, especially as big department stores continue facing challenges and bankruptcies and, in turn, lose some of their historical influence over operations. This redevelopment will be driven by the rise of consumer demand for health and wellness products and services, including cannabis retail, as health became more of a focus in 2020. Without as much travel, open-air markets will need to cater to locals and nearby visitors looking for a bit of entertainment. We’ll again see the importance of great food and immersive environments that offer a sense of discovery through unique retail concepts. 

3. Contactless Connected Stores: People will increasingly want to use their phone as the controller across touchpoints such as interactive displays, curbside or in-store pickup or checkout, etc. This capability provides a safer and contactless experience that people can feel good about when shopping in our new normal. 

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

JR: I strongly believe contactless technologies and marketplaces will have the biggest impact. Towards the end of 2021 and beyond, we’ll see livestreaming technologies increase in importance across the Western retail world as it has already in China.

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

JR: First, prepare tactics for handling the influx of holiday returns, which I suspect will be significant. Reports vary but many sources predict e-commerce rose at least 30% YoY this holiday season. I warn against pushing a lot of business needs to address “after the pandemic.” Although it’s hard to juggle it all, retailers would be wise to carve out some dedicated time to focus on revising their longer-terms strategies. 

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

JR: The future of brick-and-mortar remains bright even in the midst of uncertainty. The bottom line is that it’s always transforming. In the next year, we’ll likely see incumbent brands taking on DTC strategies selling through physical channels. 


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