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What Will Shape Shopper Marketing & Retail in 2021?

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What Will Shape Shopper Marketing & Retail in 2021?

This time last year we asked a panel of TMA’s shopper marketing and retail pros to weigh in on what they saw make an impact on shopper marketing and retail in 2019 and what they saw on the horizon for 2020.

Even with Covid-19 and all the change that came with the pandemic, they still managed to be pretty spot on in their predictions [check them out here]. So, we decided to do it again.

Here’s what our pros had to say about retail and shopper marketing in 2020 and what they predict for 2021.

Leo Santos | SVP, Creative

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

Brick-and-mortar as the underdog. Online shopping resistors are a nearly extinct species. Any fear some might have still held of online credit card use, services provided by occasional gig-economy workers, or of simple inconveniences like having someone else choose your produce were forced into the backseat by the existential threat of Covid-19. And what do you know? Those resistors not only discovered all the convenience and ease of price comparing the rest of us had already fallen for, but also that their shopping trips became cheaper and more conscientious, even as retailers got smarter about pushing impulse buys online. With the cat now out of the bag, how can brick-and-mortar retailers survive? That brings me to the next question.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

Shopping as an occasion. Predictions are another victim of this pandemic, but I will take my chances with this one: as the vaccines usher in herd immunity the right way, we’re going to see a colossal pent-up demand for returning to some sense of pre-2020 normalcy redefine brick-and-mortar retail. Retailers are going to leverage the desire of consumers to just be out and part of a community again and turn shopping trips into occasions. Slowly, as fears subside, I expect to see great new ideas in retailtainment, more sit-down serving counters in grocery stores, big innovations in POS, etc. Those who attempt to return to a world where you just had to stock the right products on shelves are eventually going to become distribution warehouses for home delivery or fade away.

Kelly Platt | SVP, Account Service

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

2020 saw a continued uptick in values-based brands and traceability. Consumers want to know where their goods are being sourced, manufactured and produced. When you look a generation such as Gen Z, you see an up and coming audience with purchasing power that’s also hyper-tapped into global issues. They are looking for companies on the forefront of responsibility and action when it comes to the national and global issues we’re faced with today and in the future—what are brands doing to make a difference with their influence and their profits?

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

I think we’ll continue to see creative and recyclable packaging and unboxing experiences—extending the excitement of the in-store or online purchase through to the experience of opening. My husband bought a new grill the other day, which is an exciting as a purchase in and of itself, but when he opened the box the manufacturer had thoughtfully built a beer holder into the cardboard to accompany the user during assembly and then the whole box inverted to create a playhouse for kids when you were done. Every touchpoint is an opportunity for creativity and connection, with the ability to drive measurable talkability, shareability, and loyalty in the long term.

Kevin Kleber | SVP, Creative Director

What was the biggest shift or trend that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

This isn’t the tidiest of answers, but it was a messy year… I’d say it was a renewed focus on the essentials or if you do want the buzzy label, I’d probably call it Retail Essentialism. “Essential” was obviously an important handle that took on resonance early in the pandemic. Some workers and businesses were essential, others were not. And that labeling meant you worked or you stayed home in some areas of the country. But it also became a red thread for much of retail. We saw neighborhood restaurants starting to sell essential goods and sundries like a general store plucked out of the 1800s. We saw retailers offering special shopping hours for at-risk customers. We saw businesses paring down their offerings to a scalable essence that hopefully allowed them to stay “open,” safe, staffed, and somewhat profitable. (I say “hopefully,” because you can’t talk about this past year without acknowledging the scary sad number of businesses that are either temporarily or permanently shuttered due to the pandemic.) Through it all, we also saw shoppers, many of whom were feeling their own economic pinch, fixating on a set of essential needs, those commoditized in the past, but now precious and rare in 2020. Toilet paper. Cleaning supplies. Canned beans, soups, etc. Yeast, for the non-sourdough bakers out there. 

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

If we are able to emerge from the pandemic to some version of a new normal, hopefully it comes with a renewed/educated understanding of how vulnerable your local small business community is, and what you can do to help them get back on their feet. I think it’s going to come as quite a shock when the dust settles, and people come to grips with how many beloved businesses that they took for granted are no longer even in business. While eCommerce giants and big box retailers proved their essential worth and were real lifesavers, we’re going to be hungry for that local flavor that we can only get by strolling down the sidewalks of our community.

Emma Quinn | Creative Director

What was the biggest shift or trend that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

In what may seem like a surprising shift in a year of isolation, retail became more social than ever in 2020. A near halt of brick-and-mortar shopping meant that brands had to meet shoppers where they were, erasing the line between scrolling and shopping. This year saw Social Retail become more seamless and accessible than ever before, culminating in Instagram replacing their “likes” tab with a dedicated “shop” shortcut (igniting the fury of many traditional influencers). This surge of social shopping not only changed where purchases happen, but how — giving more power than ever to micro-influencers, niche online communities, and other trusted social sources. 

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

2021: the year of extreme transparency. It’s no longer enough for a brand to put out blanket statements of “support” for racial justice or “dedication” to sustainability, and we will see shoppers demand clarity and action even more in the new year. As Gen Z further increases their spending power, the fight for equity develops even more permanence in our daily lives, and the entire world deals with the economic repercussions of the pandemic, shoppers will become even more choiceful about what kinds of businesses they support. Shopping is no longer a one-way street: consumers are more aware than ever that their dollars make a difference, and brands and retailers will need to find creative ways to pull back the curtain in order to win hearts and wallets this year.

Will Clarke | EVP, Creative

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

Covid-19 has been an accelerant as much as a disruptor for retail. Digital shopping habits have only increased. Delivery is a way of life. From e-commerce to click and collect, shoppers are no longer wandering stores. The prediction that all marketing becomes shopper or conversion marketing is suddenly the present reality, and 2020 was the year that everyone became an omnichannel shopper, a habit that will endure post-pandemic.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

Well, I was right about TikTok dominating shoppers’ mind space in my 2020 predictions, but I was a little premature on its direct link to e-commerce. With Shopify’s help, Instagram seems to have made the most inroads there, giving smaller retailers a real chance against Amazon. (However, I think with the TikTok algorithm, predictive shopping is coming. Why else did Walmart want to buy it earlier this year?) TikTok’s influence to mobilize and inspire Gen Z is undeniable. From K-Pop fans becoming political activists with the Trump Tulsa rally goof to Ocean Spray and Stevie Nicks becoming two of the hottest brands on social thanks to a 37-year-old skateboarder, Nathan Apodaca (aka 420doggface208). So, I double down on TikTok for  2021. It’s going to put Facebook and Google on their heels and reshape how we all relate and shop.

Nancylyn Hoggarty | SVP, Strategy

What was the biggest shift (or trend) that occurred in retail/shopper marketing in 2020?

Unbearable lows and inconceivable highs. To date there have been more than 18 million cases and 320,000 deaths associated with the Coronavirus – still, scientists mapped its genome in just three days and went from development to first shipment of a U.S. vaccine in just 10 months. A record 20.5 million people lost their jobs in April, but we end the year with a record savings rate of 17.2%. The Dow passed 30,000 for a new all-time high in December, yet 74% of economics predict recession in 2021. Somehow we also managed to make it to Mars this year, sent NASA astronauts to the Space Station on the first commercial spaceflight, and a baby Panda named “Little Miracle” was born at the National Zoo. The legacy of 2020 is resilience. Consumers managed to internalize all this contradiction and will roll with it into 2021. Perhaps Pantone captured it best in their choice for 2021 Color of the Year, “Alone, a gray would be stagnant and depressing, while a yellow would be overly ebullient.”  Together Pantone’s co-Colors of the Year, Illuminating and Ultimate Gray, combine to create the sensation of fresh sunshine over rocky terrain. This mix of optimism and groundedness will frame shopper marketing in 2021.

What forces/trends will shape retail/shopper in 2021?

Optimism about getting back in stores tempered by demand for safe shopping will drive contactless/minimal contact options toward default and usher in changes to the store environment beyond floor decals. Retailers are already rethinking assortment, so expect to see assortment trends and safe shopping converge into modernized layouts and traffic flows that ensure both safety and efficiency. Safe shopping drove down dwell time, but also managed to lengthen pre-shop phases for lots of purchases as shoppers made the most of quarantine downtime. These shifts create opportunity for relevant connection with shoppers as they discover and explore, but also mean we won’t be able to count on traditional impulse drivers in digital or physical environments. What will it take to create urgency and bring digital discovery to a close? Alternatively, how might we get speeding shoppers to slow down and browse a minute? 2021 will see marketers internalize the many changes brought to us by 2020 and push us to rethink our approach in order to keep pace with shoppers.

Will these predictions pay off? Only time will tell. But, it’s safe to say our shopper marketing and retail experts will be watching and keeping our clients ahead of the game.

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