What Should Brick and Mortar Retailers Be Doing In 2021
Expert Panel

What Should Brick and Mortar Retailers Be Doing In 2021? 14 Experts Give Their Opinion

Aug 27, 2021

Our Future of Brick and Mortar Retail Series featured interviews with over 35 retailers, experts, and thought leaders who told us about the trends shaping the future of brick and mortar.

As a look into the series, here are some of our favorite responses:

What should brick and mortar retailers be doing in 2021?

Shep Hyken, NYT Best Selling Business Author 

Shep HykenImplement next-level personalization 

Retailers 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 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. 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. 

Raina Rusnak, Consumer Research & Insights Lead, Peapod Digital Labs

Raina RusnakRetailers should continue to monitor the pulse of customer thoughts and experiences in order to strengthen loyalty and emotional connection to the brand. 

Notably, the pandemic heightened customers’ demand for eCommerce options with both pick-up and delivery. Making the customer’s preferred channel easy and convenient will solidify that bond.

Likewise, providing nutritional guidance, home meal solutions, seamless payment options, and a solid eCommerce platform will inspire customers and deepen brand loyalty.


CJ Powell, Senior Brand Director at COHN Marketing

CJ PowellBrick and mortar retailers should be focusing on their branding and marketing now.  It’s often said that nothing tests your brand like a crisis, and 2020 has been one long repeating crisis in perpetuity. While the world carries on and adjusts to the next normal, every business and entrepreneur should be laser-focused on defining (or refining) its brand. As the great Simon Sinek artfully outlined in his legendary TED Talk, brands that thrive live in the world of WHY. Why does your brand exist? Why do you get up in the morning every day? Why should your customers care? Why should anyone care? During times like these, your WHY matters more than ever. It gives you a North Star in the darkness to help you navigate toward smoother seas. It simplifies your decision-making process by cutting to the heart of every issue. And it adds an unbreakable emotional component to every sale you make, because your customers will be buying your WHY and not your product. If you haven’t looked at your brand strategy in a while—many companies haven’t—now is the exact right time to do so. 

Imogen Wethered, CEO and founder of Qudini

As we have seen in the year 2020, retailers need to be willing and ready to adapt to change at pace – and the majority have shown a great deal of agility and resourcefulness throughout the pandemic by embracing a number of new initiatives. 

However, the demands of customers have changed. They are more omni-channel in their focus and are less willing to tolerate poor customer journeys than they were previously. 

Retailers need to take their customer journey to the next level by prioritising key initiatives in their roadmaps, otherwise, they risk being left behind. This means providing a fast and pain-free shopping experience, offering service and support to customers through a number of channels, and also making the in-store experience engaging and compelling. 

John Federman, CEO of JRNI

John FedermanTo encourage consumers to shop more in-store, brick and mortar retailers need to ensure their physical and virtual offerings incorporate more individual service opportunities for consumers, as the lines between the online and in-store experience become increasingly blurred.

 In addition, retailers will need to put control into the hands of consumers as they have varying degrees of fear and comfort with regards to being in-store and around other people.

Ways to do that include allowing them to book an appointment time or virtually queue in the comfort and safety of their home or car while they’re awaiting entrance. 

Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends

Cate TrotterAs 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. 

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.

Joshua Williams, Founding President of Fashion Consort

Joshua WilliamsFirst and foremost, retailers should be focusing on their store line employees. The realities of their jobs have changed as customer expectations have changed.

Employees will need to be able to engage customers in a truly 360 omni-channel experience, and companies will need to reward employees who do this—rethinking sales commissions, in-hand tools, client access and engagement, and direct participation in marketing. This will require a lot of transparency and empathy at all levels of the retail organization. What’s more, retailers need to figure out how to aggregate information and experience at the front lines in a way that executives can be more agile in decision making.

Customer expectations are changing quickly, especially due to the pandemic, and retailers that respond quickly, and authentically, are being rewarded.

Oksana Sokolovsky, CEO and Founder of ROAR 

Embrace new technologies, rethink what and how of the in-store experience and start building your digital community through meaningful engagement.

Don’t just sell, sell with passion – it’s not about inventory anymore. Create an experience, showcase it and entertain your customers. 

Shopping will become entertainment. Come out of your brick and mortar store into Social 2.0. It’s not about the followers, it’s about the engaged community. Engage, entertain and connect with your customers!


Damon Routzhan, Founder and CEO of Concrete Candles 

Damon RoutzhanGeofencing is one good tactic to use. This can help them by creating a wall around their customers when they are in close proximity to their store or the neighbourhood the company wants to target. At that moment they can then target ads at customers. So, if your store has some good offers going on, this will help to attract customers and make them want to jump onto the bandwagon. Stores can generate quite a lot of in-store traffic through this tactic.

If you want to work on improving your revenue streams for 2021, then better start working on your SEO to enhance the local search. Nearby search has become quite a norm. For any store to be a part of this “usual” needs to develop their backlinks and improve the keyword research, so that every time a user searches for your niche “near them”, you show up in their search results; that too on Google’s first results page.

Joan Insel, Vice President at CallisonRTKL 

Joan InselKnow your brand. Live your brand. Be your brand. Consumers today are not just shopping for products—shoes, luggage, skincare—but they want to know how the brands they buy are advocating for the greater good in their communities.

Know your customer. 

Be data driven, of course. Review your analytics from point of sale, foot traffic, social media, etc. But don’t forget the human element, the insights you can learn directly from your customers—and your staff.


Joanne Heyob, SVP of Operations Strategy & Design at WD Partners

Joanne HeyobThey should be making investments in their supply chain, especially with the launch of 5G technology. This is a much more streamlined and accurate way to have visibility of where inventory is located. 

Understanding how you can improve your logistics and get a product where it needs to be is more critical than ever. If you can’t find a product or ship it fast enough, consumers have learned to look elsewhere because of the pandemic. Investing in supply chain technology and predictive analytics will go a long way in helping brick and mortar stores stay stocked with inventory for consumers. Another thing they should be doing right now is looking at where they can collaborate with other local independent retailers in neighborhoods they are not in. Planning for pop-up shops with a local vibe will attract new customers and may bring other customers back who have abandoned shopping malls altogether. 

Werner Jorgensen, Marketing & Sales expert at Tooleto

Werner JorgensenMake plans for faster delivery.

Gone are the days when customers waited a week for their order to reach. Over the years, the delivery time has paced up. Amazon first launched 2-day delivery with the rise of Amazon prime, then the next day, and finally same-day delivery.

Now, other names are following in the same direction, too, with Walmart giving a 2-hour express delivery option. Same-day delivery will become common and you’ll need to match the market standards. Any customer will choose the store delivering faster.


Debbie Hauss, Executive Director of Content, Retail TouchPoints 

Debbie HaussAll retailers must acknowledge the growing importance of ecommerce and figure out how they can deliver on the promise of seamless experiences across all channels. The further answer to this question, though, depends on the specific retailer.

For example, some larger chains are converting locations into dark stores that can serve as distribution centers. Many businesses already have implemented BOPIS (buy online pick up in-store) and home delivery. Both large and small retailers are looking into new, more agile store formats that can allow for less expensive and time-consuming store openings and brand launches.

Kristen Moore, CMO of inVia Robotics

Kristen MooreRetailers should look at the bigger picture in their supply chain in order to identify interdependencies. 

It became clear in 2020 that when systems really get pressure tested, an issue in one part of an operation can end up holding the rest of the system hostage. 

Planning for disruptions effectively is going to require a holistic view and the ability to dynamically reallocate resources to keep them balanced.


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