What’s in the basket for retail 2021? Top trends for the year ahead

The global retail sector has been kept on its collective toes during what has turned out to be a truly transformative 2020, with an unprecedented transition to the digital-first economy. As IBM’s 2020 U.S. Retail Index suggests, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years. And as retailers scramble to up their online game in response to rising consumer expectations, it is these expectations that will drive some key trends for the year ahead:

More personalised experiences – consumers with purchasing intent may well stray onto your site, but unless their needs and expectations are met more or less immediately – many of these time-poor and increasingly discriminating shoppers won’t hesitate to look elsewhere. Microsoft research suggests the average consumer’s attention span is less than 8 seconds. Keeping customers interested is trickier than ever in the digital sphere, and without the benefit of friendly in-store staff to offer advice or guide a purchase, retailers must employ engaging and reliable new ways of personalising their shopping experiences. By applying smart targeting with data generated through AI algorithms, they can deliver content that has been customised to reflect consumer preferences.

Chatbots or personalisation engines with the ability to recognize and adapt to customer intent can help online businesses to boost profits by up to 15%.  When programmed with high-quality and relevant content in the customer’s native language, chatbots can answer questions in an effective and engaging way, offering customized product recommendations, and providing a fully personalized shopping experience – around the clock.

AR & VR are becoming increasingly critical tools for retailers seeking to replicate fitting room, furniture showroom or beauty counter experiences online. Indeed, for many retailers, AR has suddenly evolved from a nice-to-have feature to an essential technology – prompting Deloitte to cast the trend as a ‘quiet revolution.’ Effective “try before you buy” tech enables hesitant consumers to visualise furniture in their own homes, or see cosmetics on their own skin, increasing engagement and boosting confidence. When combined with the critical reassurance of detailed and high-quality product descriptions, these tools can really drive sales and add real value.

Visual search, which allows users to conduct a product or item search using a picture, rather than keywords, has been hailed as ‘key to the future of Instant Commerce’. This ingenious technology can streamline and speed up the shopping experience, helping customers to find the exact products they’re looking for. And, having teetered on the brink of wider use for some time, visual search may finally become mainstream over the next year. In its implementation, visual search can leverage the power of rich languages. For instance, in English although there are over 170,000 words, the average person uses as few as 20,000-40,000 of them, so there is an enormous opportunity for e-commerce sites to optimise for visual search based on user intent. And with the visual analytics market expected to be worth 6.51 Billion by 2022, the time to prepare by optimising your site for this coming capability is right now.

Voice search has been hovering just over the ecommerce horizon for some time now, but with an estimated 75% of Americans now expected to have smart speakers by 2025, and many using them to shop, the technology is about to have its time in the sun. In terms of the implications for SEO, the good news is that retailers with strong content, particularly catering to long-tail searches, will still prevail. A focus on natural language is also key.

Environment/sustainability – ethics and sustainability play an increasingly important role in consumers’ purchasing decisions, an evolution which is reflected in some notable retailing trends. These include the advent of recommerce – online resale sites and apps – which have seen a surge in usage and overall sales, including those by established brands such as Levi’s Second hand. Other innovations include rental offerings, such as that recently launched by John Lewis for furniture, or sustainability initiatives, such as Selfridge’s Project Earth. In this climate, retailers really need to consider their own recommerce offerings, as well as ensuring that the benefits – and sustainability – of their new products are abundantly clear – in each and every one of their product and category descriptions.

How does your site measure up?

Are you prepared for 2021? To assess how well your ecommerce content is optimised for these fast evolving online trends, please get in touch to request a free Quill Quality Score audit.

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