The four biggest retail trends for 2021

In 2020 the world has turned upside down. The Covid-19 pandemic led to major shifts within retail and transformed the way consumers shop like never before.

Time to consume: 4 min
18 Feb 2021

In this blog, you’ll get insights about the 4 main retail trends for 2021, both as a cause of the pandemic and other ongoing market changes. All summarised by Retail Institute Scandinavia in collaboration with Ebeltoft Group – global retail & brand experts.

1. Omni Integration

The emergence of Covid-19 speeds up the need for technology adaptions and digital innovations that allow consumers to always be connected. They can shop, return, or share products anytime and anywhere at the touch of a button. Bricks and mortar and the online channel are no longer separate entities, but complementary platforms that improve the retail experience. Customers no longer distinguish between the physical and digital worlds. They want to be served at any time, anywhere and through every channel. An omni experience encompasses everything from online to offline experiences. With click and collect, augmented reality assistants, endless aisle, lockers, and data-driven stores, omni experience dominates retail today.

Zara pilots in-store mode

In September 2020, the Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara launched a new feature called “in-store mode” in its app across several Spanish cities, designed to make shopping easier, faster, safer, and more sustainable. The feature allows customers to:

  • Shop online from selected store’s stock and pick up their order in 30 minutes, to avoid queueing and speed up the visit.
  • Locate any product they have seen online (or search on the app by picture, by code, or by voice) while in-store. The app shows a map of the store indicating the area where the product is currently displayed.
  • Book a fitting room from the app while being in the store. A special treat for loyal customers and a much-needed feature in coronavirus times to avoid queues and crowds of people.
  • Receive electronic tickets. At checkout, the app produces a QR code that is unique to each purchase. These codes are all stored on the app for easy recall, reducing the need for printing paper receipts and expediting the check-out process.

2. Extreme Convenience

The modern consumer is busy, and the era of seamless, frictionless retailing is here. Due to the pandemic the customer wants to shop faster and more efficiently than before. Friction is every barrier we put in place to prevent customers from buying a product. Retailers are removing friction from the experience by adding elements of technology, subscriptions, delivery, and pick-up, while also streamlining the key elements of everyday operations. Safety, fast shopping and convenient one-stop-shopping is getting more and more important, and retailers are leveraging technology to expedite services and create a seamless experience. Further, offering customer service online is a hot topic since 2020, and pick-up locations are popping up around the world to get items in customers’ hands conveniently and quickly. Barriers — ordering, checkout, product availability — are removed through technology advancements.


3. Extreme Experience

Before the corona outbreak, consumers were craving physical experience and entertainment. This trend has been slowed down by Covid-19. Nonetheless, consumers have the need to interact with retailers and brands through digital engagement. Retailers and brands are pushed to offer innovative concepts that replace previous face-to-face experience with interactive online solutions.

Nevertheless, interaction and engagement in the store with products, staff, and brands will remain essential in the future. A safe environment is key in order to continue the physical experience and, thus, identifying customer needs, building relationships and loyalty, and personalizing the shopping experience. Consumers do not choose products based solely on functional value, but, rather, based on emotions that engagement and experience ensure.

Finnish postal service open the post office of the future

Box” is a bright and modernly decorated self-service postal point, where Finnish consumers can pick up their online orders. It is operated by the Finnish postal service Posti and the purpose is to be the “perfect place” to pick up online orders. The box is not only a hassle-free pick-up point, but it also offers other convenient services, e.g. a recycling area, a product show-space, and fitting rooms. Rows of pick-up lockers make the experience convenient and quick, and customers can easily return their orders. The consumers can try on what they bought online, right there on the location in the fitting rooms, and if they wish to make a return, they can save time by packing it up in the free packaging provided in the space and return it right away using digital kiosks. Additionally, Box offers the possibility to sit and grab a coffee, as well as an area that can be used to host company events. Each area of service is marked with a special color to make it easy to navigate the space. Further, brands have the opportunity to showcase their products in “Box”, offering them a way to increase brand awareness as well as functioning as a part of the business model for Box.

4. Sustainable Practices

Consumers are more conscious now than ever. There is no planet B that speeds up the need for sustainable solutions and transparent chains. Additionally, consumers are more aware that their personal health is not for granted. Therefore, a healthy diet, wellness, and mental health are at the top of customers’ minds. Conscious consumers are becoming a larger and more vocal segment of the population. Implementing sustainable practices is all about demonstrating social responsibility and highlighting an ethical, honest, and responsible business. It means taking responsibility by offering consumption in good conscience by producing environmentally sound and responsible products and services.


The article was written by
Laura Simone Andersen,
Retail Institute Scandinavia