By: Arnab Biswas, Creative Director at Cheil Germany 

Arnab Biswas, Creative Director at Cheil Germany

Pandemic changed the retail world forever. Social distancing and lockdowns have accelerated adoption of e-commerce at a breakneck pace. It seems online demand will likely remain strong post-COVID-19, and retailers must adapt to the “new normal”. Listed below are the 8 trends that are gaining rapid traction around the world that I believe are going to shape the world of commerce in the next few years.

1. Live Commerce

China is the undisputed leader of the digital economy, the online retail sector worth US$ 4.5 trillion and continues to influence global e-commerce trends. One of the biggest trends of 2020 was live-streamed shoppertainment content to drive click-to-buy sales where Influencers themselves become the stores, selling as they go—and taking a cut. 

Over Q3 2020, the number of live stream sessions hosted on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao Live increased 110% year-over-year. This trend is also gaining traction in the U.S. Adaption in Europe seems to be slow though due to currency fragmentation and language barriers. 

2. Social Commerce

Social commerce has been there for a while but in 2020 it became mainstream. When small businesses were forced to close doors due to the pandemic, they turned to social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok to drive revenue. Brands were already creating content to sell their products and now improved features enable consumers to buy products natively on some of these platforms. 

For eg., Instagram is allowing businesses to tag their products allowing followers to buy within the platform, by enabling the “checkout” feature. Shoppable content is also expected to be rolled out soon over IGTV and Reels. Influencers can also now tag a brand’s products, connect to their brand partner’s merchandise and enable their followers to shop from their page reducing friction in the sales funnel as customers embrace social commerce more and more. 

Social commerce can boost the e-commerce conversion rate for retailers. This makes it an essential component of marketing strategy and brands are investing in coming up with manageable and cost-effective social commerce strategy. 

3. Gaming

Gaming platforms and e-sports have exploded in popularity during the pandemic. The global gaming market in 2020 was valued at 200 Billion $ which is bigger than the music and movie industry combined. (Source: @Newzoo | 2020 Global Games Market 

With business on the rise, gaming presents plenty of opportunities for brands, marketing and retail. The shift of owning virtual spaces already began in 2019 with brands like Louis Vuitton partnering with Riot Games offered “prestige skins” for League of Legends champions. Mac Cosmetics partnered with Tencent mobile game Honor of Kings in China to launch limited editions of lipsticks.  

In 2020, we saw music royalty Marshmello and Travis Scott host huge concerts within Fortnite. BURBERRY Live streamed their Spring/Summer 2021 runway show on Twitch. The fashion giant also gamified the shopping experience on Snapchat and even created its own game—B surf—where players are outfitted in the latest Burberry garb. (image source: Burberry)

Global gaming market in 2020 was valued at 200B $ bigger than the music and movie industry combined.

Gaming will continue to be a vital part of peoples digital life. A trend marketers can expect to continue through the foreseeable future. With the rollout of 5G globally and more affordable smartphones, gaming would provide the huge untapped potential for brands.

4. Virtual Retail

2020 ushered in an era, where virtual experiences have taken priority over physical. The desire to escape reality is at an all-time high. Fictional spaces and virtual fashion is comforting peoples minds in the era where bodies are under lockdown but imagination not.

RTFKT studios officially founded in January 2020, is leading the path with virtual sneaker drops every month. According to Hypebeast every pair released by the brand has sold out, even at a price tag that averages $15,000 USD, and have sold for as much as $40,000 USD. (image source: Instagram)

Loftgarten, a design firm creates hi-end spatial experiences that transport people to fantastical landscapes merging the boundaries between reality and 3D.

Pinterest just launched an AR Try on for eyeshadow, with products from Lancome, YSL, Urban Decay, and NYX Cosmetics. Blurring the lines between physical retail and digital. The virtual eyeshadow experience can be found across more than 4,000 shoppable shades. When was the last time you tried so many on your face? (image source: Pinterest)

Augmented reality is steadily becoming mainstream culture. Fantasy digital renderings in interior design, virtual fashion are all pointing to a future form of full-blown digital stores.

Whether online or offline, a store would no longer be a physical location anymore but an experience offering fantasy, imagination and escape from the mundane reality we call life.

5. Dark Stores

A new format of brick and mortar is emerging called the Dark Stores – the future of the post-pandemic world?. A store with no shoppers. Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfilment centres. They come in the form of grocery stores, clothing and even home-goods retail outlets.

Whole Foods Market in 2020 opened a store in New York City and Los Angeles that are closed to the public. Amazon is testing “Dark Store” due to the extraordinary grocery demand in the US. Retailers in the future are thinking of turning parts of their stores to fulfilment centres. Allowing customers to enter only parts of the store. Pulling inventory off the shelf for deliveries expands how stores can reach out and serve customers without decreasing the experience for customers who prefer to shop in-store.

6. The Robots are coming

This is not going to be our last pandemic therefore as AI and robotics progress contactless retail stores run autonomously might soon become the norm. Sophia the viral Robot and three other models from Hanson Robotics are going to be mass-produced which are expected to roll out in the first half of 2021. Hanson Robotics believes these robots can help not only the healthcare sectors of the world but the retail and airline industries as well.

Heineken opened a pop-up bar in Sydney with two robot bartenders (or rather arms) named Heidi and Ken serving customers. The zero contact experience demonstrates automation’s new role in making hospitality more hygienic. 

7. Sustainability

Sustainability is not just a buzz word retailers are using to make Gen Z happy. It might decide the survival of brands in the future. Consumers are driving this change by placing greater value on sustainable products pushing businesses actively to make greener decisions. According to findings in IBM’s recent study of 19,000 consumers in 28 countries, sustainability factors in the decision making purchasing process. Fashion brands Levi’s, American Eagle, Stella McCartney, H&M and Lush have all pledged to do better and responded with action plans. 

8. Geospatial data & Weather analytics

Geospatial data will play a key role in Retail Analytics in the post covid world. Location data proved to play a significant role in making us understand the covid virus, monitor citizens, contact tracing as well as to create contingency zones. However, now, the retail industry in India is planning to leverage location-based consumer data to understand the demographics for their business in the post-COVID world.

Another trend, “Predictive Retail Weather Analytics” solutions analyze the relation between weather and consumer buying patterns. It optimizes productivity with weather analytics and also provides a single view of traffic, location and safety factors that may affect operations, distribution and staff schedules. As the saying goes: