There’s a growing realization among marketers in the retail space that things will never be the same again. It’s as if 2020 marked some kind of major transition point after which the fabric of retail, online commerce, and brand marketing itself will have forever shifted.

We’ve all heard the rumblings — about machine learning, AI, VR/AR, IoT, chatbots, digital assistants and more — but we wanted to know what a global panel of in-the-weeds retail leaders foresee for 2021 based on the more recent pandemic… real talk, no gimmicks. Here’s 10 examples of how industry leaders have been evolving, innovating, and continuing to find new ways to drive revenue.

Where is Customer Engagement Going?

Customer engagement marketing is at the core of everything we do as marketers. What do we need to know for 2021?

Simplification, agility, and change management

“We’re now API-driven, that ultimately allows us to plug and play new vendors, try things out — if we don’t like it we can throw it out… This allows us to scale and move with speed… We don’t really know where we’re going to be in three months time… You’ve got to be ready to change, that’s part of the digital transformation…”

Tho​mas Tregelles, Digital Director, Frasers Group
Sports Direct buys Glasgow's House of Fraser building and vows to create 'Harrods of the North' - Glasgow Live

Maximizing revenue during the 2020 holidays

“[We’ll be] navigating a bigger peak than ever… converting more and more of those customers who shopped online for the first time and became new customers, making them loyal. We’ll stay close to the data, customer sentiment, and make sure we’re amending all our journeys to ensure customers have the best experience possible no matter what scenario is thrown as us”

Jodie Gardner, Head of CRM, AO.com

Moving to digital engagement

“Create value through engagement and relevance. It’s not just a transactional mindset that e-commerce businesses have. Now more than ever, consumers will gravitate toward digital even for pre- or post-purchase experience from awareness to consideration to post-purchase… how do first-timers perceive the brand… you’ve got to be thinking about creating value and loyalty from start to finish. How we engage and communicate with them is going to be very important in the future.”

Rick Almeida, Vice President E-commerce, PUMA

The Future of Omnichannel Commerce

Omnichannel has been all the buzz, and for good reason. Now, an “omnichannel or perish” mindset is required… even if the majority of companies are not yet truly omnichannel.

On the AR/VR front…

“We’re definitely seeing the types of experiences that you see in in-person are now being brought online. So AR / VR technology is really helping us fuel this. So I know one of my colleagues talks about having furniture, bringing furniture into your room to really be able to see what the measurements are virtually. And then even we’ve seen, you know, technology for virtual fitting rooms and those types of live selling experiences so that consumers are still able to get some of the benefits that they got from being in person and being able to talk to someone and touch and feel physical products. But having those experiences really come online.”

Fatima Yusuf, Director of Partnerships, ShopifyPlus

Stay customer-obsessed

“This is the biggest mistake I see companies making out there. Please do not do single-channel promotions or single-channel offers. It is not, and let me say it for the record, tweet it if you want, it is not customer-obsessed to make the customer shop in the channel you want them to shop in. Let me say it again. It is not customer-obsessed to make the customer shop in the channel you want them to shop in. OK, that is the opposite of customer-obsessed. That is company-obsessed. OK, and so it is again not worth losing a customer just because you said we want you to come into the store or we want you to shop online.”

Brendan Witcher, Vice President/Principal Analyst of Digital Business, Forrester

Cross-Channel Marketing and Personalization

Putting the personalization puzzle together is getting harder due to tech overload and consumer expectations. But luckily it’s also getting easier… to scale, automate, and integrate… with that same tech.

It’s not enough to be present across multiple channels — you must provide a channel-agnostic experience across them all. And new channels are emerging quickly.

Have you thought about OTT?

“OTT has really revolutionized — and added this imperative of — how direct-to-consumer brands go to market, connect with consumers, and accelerate growth. OTT represents a whole new device to add to your media mix. Does that mean you should stop investing in paid search or scale back your paid social budget? Not at all! Those are  still going to be your tried and true channels, and you should keep doing them. But virtually every channel has a point of diminishing return, many of us are invested beyond that point. OTT is a great way to reinvest those dollars into a whole new channel to increase reach and drive new purchases. OTT represents a diversification opportunity.”

Jesse Math, Vice President, Planning & Platforms, OTT/CTV Lead, Tinuiti

Evaluate your tech stack

“We’re getting a lot of RFPs from ambitious businesses that have fallen behind and realized they need to accelerate forward. There’s a lot of companies undertaking platform evaluations and reviews to increase their agility and reduce their total cost of ownership due to budget pressures. So is this platform right for me? Am I doing the same amount of sales as I was last year? Is this platform going to provide agility and future-proof me going forward? Can I get all the right connections into it? Can I personalize more in that?”

Matthew Moss, VP of Business Development and Client Services, BORN Group

Being Smart with Customer Data

Some brands rely on marketing alone to drive customer growth and revenue. But in 2021, the brands most successful at driving customer growth and revenue will rely on marketing and data.

Mixing online and in-store

“ Google and Facebook now track store visits as well, so you want to get to the point where you say ‘ok, that ad also pushed an in-store conversion,’ and you can say retail ad spend is not just online only, when you spend digital, it’s a company-wide marketing spend (as opposed to just an online sale), and when you get customers online, you can push that customer back in-store through email, remarketing, or pushing local inventory.”

Mike Cheng, Head of Digital, City Beach
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Be tactical with your loyalty program

“We launched our new MVB Rewards program this past February, and the program is now based on points. With the different thresholds, you can redeem them for different rewards… now the customer had the ability to login to an online portal, they could manage rewards… that also gave us visibility into more customer data to understand how active are you in your online profile, we could award points for surveys, you could refer a friend. The other piece of this was being able to include more aspects of the in-center experience in that eligible spend.”

Megan Wintersteen, VP Marketing, Bowlero Corporation

How to Maintain High-Performing Teams

One of the most important parts of a successful marketing strategy, especially in this “work from home” climate, is a high-performing team. Without a strong team connected to the same mission and vision heading into 2021, your brand will have difficulty interacting with customers in a personal manner.

Re-evaluate, hit pause, then go

“[Since COVID-19] … We realized we need to connect to the customer and let them tell  us what they want. We refocused on subject lines and our promotional messaging. How are we communicating? The KPIs shifted to open rate and unsubscribe… then we started looking at products. Surprisingly enough, a loaf pan for baking was not one of our key items before COVID, but when we were looking online and at data, we found consumers were not only buying it from our site but talking about it online. We started bringing items hidden for us to the forefront, and ensuring as things were trending, we were trending along with it.”

Lindsay Ball, Sr. Digital Marketing Manager, Corelle Brands 

Conclusion

The next phase of retail is all about keeping the focus on the customer and engaging with them whenever, wherever, and however they prefer.

During Retail Renaissance, brands like Puma, Sally Europe, and Facebook shared tips for delivering omnichannel, customer-centric experiences and creating emotional connections that lead to more loyal shoppers and better business outcomes in this new age.

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