WHAT DOES 2021 HOLD FOR THE HIGH STREET?

By: Sandra Perriot

6th January 2021

Around this time of year, we normally undertake the assessment of the annual CX predictions, checking the accuracy of our crystal ball and recalibrating for the year ahead. But last year was like no other. No one could have predicted what retailers had to face in 2020. But having said that, we predicted the need for more retail agility and more fluidity between the online and offline channels.

Whilst the owners of Topshop and Debenhams would love to cite the pandemic as the cause for their demise, these brands were already on the verge of breaking, lacking in relevancy and failing to be responsive to changing situations. The global disruption has mostly played the role of a catalyst, magnifying the weaknesses in the current retail system and those retailers that were already fragile have been sadly pushed to breaking point. Leading to the disastrous consequences that we know for thousands of retail workers.

Looking at the bright side – if we can – this strong shake-up has set up new opportunities and clarified the priority. AGILITY.

In a world where consumers want to stay safe and in control, shopping fluidity from online to offline, tech that builds trust and digital engagement with services across retail channels will endure. Investing in dynamic tools and processes and adapting strategies quickly to meet consumer needs will be essential for all retailers weathering these tough trading times. 

To be future-proof, every retailer will have to ask themselves constantly “why would shoppers want to come to my store and overcome their fear and financial uncertainty?”. This will guide the necessary reinvention of the retail space. Will shoppers come to the store to browse or to be served? Will they feel comfortable with hands-on items? Will they feel at ease speaking with a shop assistant? 

After a year spent largely indoors, the fear of being around a crowd of strangers, and the lack of disposable income is not the most uplifting news for retail and stores. But, retail still has a critical role to play to drive the nation’s recovery, and retailers need to be ready. We will no doubt see significant changes in how retailers operate as new measures will need to be introduced for the safety of both customers and staff. Technology and design features for ‘social distancing’ will be necessary to create a safe but enticing shopping experience. 

The retailer of the future will think first of the consumer and design their offering with the user entirely in mind. Whether that be by changing returns policies, utilising kiosks or by incorporating other types of technology that will change the structure of the physical store. Smart tech and clever design will change the face of the high street. 

Add soul to a solid but agile retail footprint, and bingo. Retailers that will also embrace the community spirit and stronger support for close networks will certainly benefit from the turbulence. 

For small businesses, this brand agility can be easy, but for larger businesses, agility is something that needs to be planned well in advance and embedded in a brand’s DNA. So this is what I am planning to do in 2021 (once we get out of lockdown, of course). Helping brands, big or small, to find their retail agility.

2020 certainly proved there’s no roadmap to follow but the retailers that wish to prosper in the future need to expand their thinking and embrace the change. Thinking creatively and seizing the new year as an opportunity to rethink strategies will see a brand new high street emerge better suited to the needs of the consumer of the future… and the unprecedented events.