The Retail Experience Will Be More of the Same in 2021

Article originally posted on Globe St. on March 30, 2021

This year, the physical, in-store shopping experience won’t change much. While the vaccine roll out should support more re-openings of businesses and events, social distancing, frictionless experiences and outdoor spaces will continue to be the trend for physical retailers this year.

“Changes we’re already used to will remain including frictionless interactions like touchless payments, plexiglass, and curbside pickup.  We can also expect the physical store to continue to the outside with outdoor seating areas, fitness areas, and displays,” David Greensfelder of Greensfelder Commercial Real Estate, tells GlobeSt.com, adding that consumers should expect the continued evolution of in-store technology designed to enhance the mobile experience such as encouraging customers to use mobile for product info, QR codes, price comparison, and frictionless checkout.

While some of these trends may prove to be temporary, the pandemic has catalyzed new trends in the in-store experience. Greensfelder says that store footprints will continue to evolve and retailers will continue to invest in alternative retail channels, including online, omni-channel and subscription-based services. “Look for new channels such as voice shopping, connected TV, messaging apps, new subscription models, and chatbots to enjoy wider adoption as they become more sophisticated and responsive,” he says. “Also, look for a blurring of the physical and alternative channel as they are used to enhance overall consumer experience and satisfaction. Combinations of physical experience and technology such as AR to see how clothes look or how furniture fits in a room will become commonplace.”

Some retailers are embracing the digital trend completely, particularly where the physical store is obsolete. Greensfelder uses the example of a Walmart Supercenter in Dallas that was converted into a last mile distribution facility. “This sort of change has potentially negative implications for the commercial district in which it is located, traffic, and community vibrancy that are not factored into the retailer’s decision,” says Greensfelder.

Other stores are taking a hybrid approach to accommodate both in-person and digital experiences. “We can expect to see stores modifying their merchandising to support in-person shopping being reserved for higher involvement purchases and social shopping as differentiated from daily needs shopping trips many of which can be accomplished and fulfilled using platforms,” says Greensfelder.

Overall, both brick-and-mortar and online platforms will continue to be important aspects of retail, as they were before the pandemic. “Ease of ordering and checkout will be critical.  E-commerce will be easier to pivot than bricks-and-mortar as circumstances and evolving trends dictate,” says Greensfelder. “More commodities will be purchased on platforms while technology will drive consumers to bricks-and-mortar retail locations.”

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