After the curveball that 2020 threw us, it’s safe to say that no one can truly predict what’s coming. However, these are my best guesses as to what’s coming for independent retailers in 2021.
1. How Retailers Buy From and Interact With Vendors Will Change
With COVID-19 still looming over us, shopkeepers who go to market events or showrooms need to make appointments in advance. I heard stories of several disappointed shopkeepers who traveled to markets and couldn’t see the booths or showrooms they wanted because they didn’t make an appointment. Don’t let that be you!
We’ll see fewer new product introductions in 2021. Many vendors are running on a tighter budget and might not be able to invest in new product lines. Conversely, independent shopkeepers are taking fewer risks on trendy items, and I believe this will continue. If your customers are just buying the basics, stick with those and maybe dabble in the trends a little bit.
I also believe that retailers and vendors will have more open, honest conversations in the new year. For instance, imagine you’re looking to reorder a product that was doing well in your store. Reach out to the salesperson or vendor and have a conversation! Do they have an alternative? Are other shops having success with other products that they sell? Don’t be afraid to reach out—you don’t know until you ask.
Lastly, one trend that I have loved in 2020 is vendors making product descriptions and images more accessible than ever to retailers. This helps retailers get items listed on their own online platforms quickly and easily. In 2021, my sister and I are hoping to outsource this work to a virtual assistant or part-time employee. Listing products takes a LOT of time that we could be spending on tasks with a higher return.
2. eCommerce is Here to Stay
Speaking of online shops, eCommerce isn’t going anywhere. According to Shopify’s annual report called The Future of eCommerce, online shopping in 3 months of 2020 grew as much as it had in the previous 10 years!
It’s time for shopkeepers to embrace their online storefront as a critical part of their business. I know that some retailers are resistant to selling online because they love their brick-and-mortar spaces so much. Trust me, there is room for both.
3. Social Selling Will Continue to Shape Our Business Models
Selling via Facebook Live or other social media platforms has been incredibly successful for retailers, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. There is even software you can use to help you manage a social sale, such as Comment Sold, which sends an invoice to the first customer who comments that they want an item.
If you haven’t tried social selling yet, you can read about How to Hold a Facebook Live Event. I’ve included a free checklist to help you get started. There’s also a full video tutorial and planning spreadsheet in The Shopkeepers Lab.
4. Retailers Will Keep Offering Payment Plans
Considering the unemployment rate and the difficulties many people are facing, we’ve seen an increase in payment plan options. Popular options are Pay in 4 from Paypal, Klarna, and Afterpay from Shopify.
Offering a payment plan helps both you and your customer. You’re making it easier for them to shop with you and manage the impact on their wallet.
5. Online Advertising Costs Will Continue to Rise
Before the pandemic, the average cost of acquiring a new customer through online advertisements was about $15. Now, that cost has crept up to nearly $30 per customer. Many people have shifted to selling and advertising online for the first time during the pandemic, so don’t expect your ad costs to go down any time soon.
6. Consumers’ Shipping Expectations Will Stay Sky-High
Shopify’s The Future of eCommerce report says, “Globally, 64% of consumers want their orders shipped for free, while peak-level eCommerce and strict same-day shipping cutoff times have made it difficult to meet rising customer demands. 67% of U.S. consumers expect either same-, next-, or two-day delivery, while 72% of global consumers want brands to use sustainable packaging.”
Most independent retail store customers understand that we are not Amazon and give us more grace on super fast shipping. But you’ll always have a handful who might expect this.
My tip is to always be clear about your turnaround time and the days your store is closed. Put the shipping policy on your website, put up a banner to keep customers informed about shipping times, and mention it on your social media profiles.
Customers who “shop small” and order from independent retailers generally understand that free shipping can be challenging and cut into profits for small business owners. Even offering a flat rate between $5-7 on orders less than $100 and maybe free over $100 can feel good to them and cover your costs.
7. Retailers Will Switch to Pandemic-Proof Merchandise Displays
Plug-and-play displays, grab-and-go displays, and other ways of showing off all your merchandise options while limiting touch are doing very well right now. Customers like seeing all the options available in a safe, sanitary display.
For high-touch displays, such as products that customers want to smell before buying, put out a bottle of hand sanitizer. If they won’t smell an essential oil, lotion, or other beauty product out of fear of touching a potentially contaminated surface, they won’t buy it.
8. Product Trends: Home-Focused Items Will Still Be All the Rage
AmericasMart is now saying that products have a one year cycle. Consumers are less focused on trends, which means retailers can exhale about back stock. If you purchased items last spring that still haven’t sold, you have a chance of selling them again this spring.
Here are some of the product trends we’ll see in 2021:
- Home decor for high-traffic areas like living rooms, kitchens, offices, and outdoor spaces.
- Rugs and wall art with serene themes are particularly popular due to an increase in Zoom meetings.
- Cell phone and tablet stands are selling well for the same reason.
- Pops of color, woven textures, and spiritually-themed items are also on the rise as people want to bring more comfort and joy into their homes.
- Curated collections are helping consumers avoid decision fatigue.
- Items that make chores more enjoyable—such as high-quality oven mitts, towels with funny sayings, cute cleaning sponges, etc—will continue to be popular.
- Stationery and other office supplies as people return to handwritten notes.
- Quality time items, such as phone lockboxes, puzzles, craft kits, and games.
- Giftables like funny toothbrushes, candles with evocative names, and cute pet products will help consumers feel connected to friends and family who are far away.
- Sustainable products such as these candleholders that reuse a glass bottle.
- Germ/safety items like hand sanitizer holders.
- Pet toys and accessories for all of the new furry companions (the adoption rate jumped 90% during the pandemic).
- Health and fitness products as people continue working out at home.
- Athleisure apparel for looking cute and being comfortable, too.
- Luxury CBD products are more and more popular.
- Experiences like virtual workshops will still be very popular, especially in the first half of 2021.
Sullivan’s Home Decor came out with a great report about how seasonality affects home decore purchasing decisions. I highly recommend taking a look for an even better understanding of upcoming product trends.
9. Consumers Will Keep Shopping Small
People are feeling the pull and the tug to support small businesses. Many customers are tagging their favorite shops when they buy something on Instagram stories. It definitely makes a difference and brings new customers to your store. Re-share those stories to show your appreciation.
I’ve also seen small businesses share about other small businesses in their area, which is a kind and supportive gesture.
10. Gift Card Promotions Will Still Be a Great Way to Engage Customers
You don’t want to cut into your profit margins too much with an overly-generous gift card promotion, but doing one that works for you is a wonderful way to connect with your customers.
E-gift cards are also becoming more popular. Customers like being able to send a thoughtful gift via email. It’s even better if the receiver can redeem the gift card in your online store.
If You Want to Know What Your Customers Want, Ask Them!
Send out a short survey to your customers to gauge what they’re looking for in 2021. Be sure to ask questions about what they want to buy, what online experiences they would participate in, and what they want to see from your store. If you can, send this to only ideal customers, such as your top 50 purchasers, so you know that you’re getting relevant feedback.
- The Future of eCommerce report from Shopify
- Comment Sold software
- How to Hold a Facebook Live Event (free getting started checklist included)
- AmericasMart’s Market Trends Video Series
- Sullivan’s Home Decor consumer behavior survey
- Savvy Shopkeeper’s favorite resources
- [01:35] Shopkeeper Shoutout
- [03:14] How Retailers Buy From and Interact With Vendors Will Change
- [06:11] eCommerce is Here to Stay
- [09:21] Social Selling is at an All-Time High
- [12:35] Retailers Will Keep Offering Payment Plans
- [13:07] Online Advertising Costs Will Continue to Rise
- [13:58] Consumers’ Shipping Expectations Will Stay High
- [17:15] Pandemic-Proof Merchandising Displays Will Become Even More Popular
- [18:33] Product Trends: Home-Focused Items Will Still Be All the Rage
- [27:24] Consumers Will Keep Shopping Small
- [28:04] Gift Card Promotions Will Still Be a Great Way to Engage Customers
- [28:48] If You Want to Know What Your Customers Want, Ask Them!