Just as 2020 took retailers by storm and taught brands a lesson or two in resilience, 2021 held its own surprises.
The vaccine rollout and the return of many Americans to work proved positive for overall sales. However, retailers continue to face a number of other challenges, including supply chain issues that are still hampering the shipping and delivery of goods.
Moving into 2022, everyone is looking forward to hopefully getting back to normal and moving past the pandemic. It goes without saying that in the world of retail some things have inherently changed for good, and merchants will continue having to pivot around massive disruption and changing consumer expectations for the foreseeable future.
Here are five retail predictions for 2022 that retailers should prepare for now:
1) Continued supply chain issues will force retailers to put renewed focus on updating inventory control systems.
The pandemic exposed massive vulnerabilities in the production strategies and supply chains of just about every industry, and retail was particularly impacted. Retail supply chains were not prepared for the massive shift to online shopping that occurred in 2020, and inventory control problems along with shipping disruptions continue to plague brands.
These problems will most likely not abate for some time. Retailers should make shoring up inventory control systems part of their 2022 plan. This is where the technology stack becomes critical to ensure a seamless shopper experience. Automatically syncing inventory across sales channels, notifying customers with low stock alerts and having a seamless system for returns are all tools that are now paramount to both improving profit margins and customer satisfaction.
2) Positive shipping and delivery experiences will become the largest deciding factor to whether a brand survives.
It sounds scary, but this shift in consumer expectations actually opens up a huge opportunity for small and mid-sized retailers to compete with larger peers. Homebound shoppers got used to having fast, same-day and sometimes even overnight, delivery options during the pandemic and it’s become an expectation. Alternative options like BOPIS and curbside delivery also caught on. The shipping and delivery experience is now one of many touchpoints that merchants can use to develop customer brand loyalty.
Small and mid-size retailers that haven’t already invested more for in-store fulfillment and curbside delivery options, should do so now to ensure that customers can enjoy the convenience of online shopping while still getting product in their hands quickly. All brands should offer seamless, low-cost shipping and convenient delivery options to stand out from the competition, and make delivery expectations clear as early as possible in the buying process.
3) New ways to pay are catching on and will be a major opportunity for merchants to boost sales revenue.
Buy now, pay later (BNPL) solutions have been growing in popularity for years, but the trend exploded in 2021 with major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s signing on. By using BNPL apps that are integrated into a retailer’s checkout, customers can shop with thousands of stores, receive their order right away and pay for it over six weeks, completely interest-free. It’s just one more example of how retailers are responding to changes in consumer shopping habits.
Customers want convenience across the board, and young consumers especially are gravitating towards new payment solutions that are reminiscent of subscription models. It’s a win for retailers as well. These payment models are only going to continue to grow in popularity, benefiting merchants who adopt the solutions early and begin the process of educating their customers on the benefits of these interest-free payment options.
4) Retailers will need to ramp up their omnichannel strategies to meet consumers wherever and whenever they choose to shop.
For a long time, having an omnichannel strategy meant little more than simply operating both a brick-and-mortar location and an online store. The pandemic forced every retailer to create a digital presence in order to survive and now consumers are getting accustomed to this re-introduced hybrid retail model. They expect to be met with uniform and engaging shopping experiences across channels, including a store's website, various marketplaces and on social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Facebook where more consumers are turning to discover and purchase products.
The key for retailers now is blending these digital and physical experiences to meet consumers where they are. For example, if a consumer is scrolling on Google Shopping on their mobile phone while watching television, it should be easy for them to find the product they want, order, checkout and receive it when they want.
Retailers who haven’t already refined their omnichannel marketing efforts to ease this shopper’s journey, are taking the risk of another retailer grabbing that shopper first. Simply put, meet the customer where they are and make it easy. Give them a personalized end-to-end shopping experience. And for merchants that employ the right omnichannel strategy to meet these expectations, they will be well-positioned to succeed for the long term.
Furthermore, I strongly recommend that retailers looking to level up their omnichannel strategies also look for tech vendors who can optimize, list and syndicate product data across hundreds of advertising channels automatically. Taking the manual approach of syndicating content out of the frame will enable retailers to reap the benefits of working in real time and expanding their channel connections.
5) Headless technology will become the future of business-to-business commerce.
Headless technology has been around for a number of years, providing a flexible solution for retailers who want to deliver the rich and engaging website content that consumers have come to expect without interfering with the back-end of their e-commerce site. Traditionally the technology has catered to direct-to-consumer retailers, but that’s beginning to change. Going headless is now a critical business strategy for business-to-business retailers looking to modernize their e-commerce operations to provide customers with business-to-business functionalities for business-specific purchasing, while offering the visual, content-focused experience that gives the feel of a B2C site.
The value headless commerce brings to business-to-business companies is the ability to innovate quickly, sell faster, convert at a higher rate and create repeat purchasing and brand loyalty. It’s definitely a trend that will grow larger in 2022.