As 2020 dragged itself to the finish line last month, we all hoped for brighter days ahead.

That is what new years are all about right? Fresh starts, clean slates, ambitious goals, exciting plans – you name it, we strive for it.

But of course it is not that that straightforward this time around as the might of the pandemic continues to plague the UK and force us all back into our homes once again for an unspecified period of time.

2021 looks set to be a year of two halves as it began with a national lockdown but, with the vaccine being rolled out across the country, could finish in style as our freedom is slowly handed back to us.

Adjust and align

Life as we knew it changed in the blink of an eye in March 2020.

But with change comes great opportunity and, with the country thrown into complete turmoil, retailers had to think on their feet and act fast to overcome hurdles and align with shoppers’ needs, behaviours and emotions as we all got our heads around a new way of living.

It was discombobulating to say the least. Yes we love that word too.

Admittedly the way we shop had already been evolving for years prior, but the pandemic served to accelerate this and forced brands to speed up the process of modernising their approach and creating meaningful engagements with shoppers in new and innovative ways.

If nothing else, 2020 enforced a swift learning curve and rapid action had to be taken if brands were to survive or, better still, flourish during COVID times.

As an agency engaged by dynamic, forward-thinking clients, here at Stellar we were able to surge ahead and swiftly shift to accessible, intuitive online offerings to allow them to stay connected with their customers and continue to deliver high calibre experiences, albeit through different channels.

We were not alone and it thrilled us to see the industry take control and carve out new pathways to ensure retail remained not only resilient but also fresh and exciting in the face of adversity.

Innovation and technology lead the way

Looking ahead to what we can expect in 2021, it is abundantly clear the learnings of 2020 will play a huge role in shaping what is to come next for retail.

The experience economy continues to grow and will undoubtedly gather further pace this year, as brands explore, develop and deliver more online while we remain in lockdown, using a host of advancing technologies.

Brands will aim to further build, sustain and nurture their connections with shoppers who are, once again, unable to visit their favourite stores in person.

Experiencing products virtually from the comfort of your own home will rapidly become more commonplace in the form of online tours, demonstrations and masterclasses.

Thanks to increasingly smart mobile technology and the impressive capabilities of augmented and virtual reality, the possibilities are endless.

Startup D2C brands will grow in numbers this year too, capitalising on the obvious opportunities available to them in this fiercely competitive market.

Whether they stand the test of time remains to be seen, but those who pitch it just right in these unusual times will enjoy great success.







When lockdown lifts

Once high streets, malls and retail spaces reopen, there will likely be a significant level of reluctance to return to old shopping habits immediately, if ever, so the need for an omnichannel approach will become increasingly vital.

In-store experiences will grow and evolve as a means of enticing customers back through the doors and will become the very fabric of physical retail for the foreseeable future.

Samsung KX at Kings Cross is an example of futuristic retail at its best, with their striking brand space offering immersive experiences delivered by a team of dynamic, knowledgeable product experts – a far cry from a traditional store model.

AR and VR work equally well in a physical setting as they open up a host of opportunities to take customers on a journey and showcase products in a way they have never been experienced before.

Social distancing has at least afforded retailers the chance to offer shoppers more personal experiences as, outside of lockdown, they can only been enjoyed within bubbles currently.

This concept is likely to prevail for some time, not only because it will take several months, if not well into next year, to vaccinate every willing adult in the country, but it is the perfect way of making customers feel valued and important.

In fact, personalisation as a whole continues to dominate the retail sector and is unlikely to disappear any time soon – from targeted social media advertising to bespoke products and experiences both online and in-store, it is a sure fire way of connecting more meaningfully with customers.

Social media itself will also take on a whole new dimension as shopping direct from the platform, as opposed to being taken to the vendor’s site, will become more commonplace.

Pop up retail will grow in popularity in 2021 too, as online brands look for a temporary means of reaching out to shoppers in the flesh.

We are also expecting to see state-of-the-art retail models emerging over the next 12 months or so, bringing a new vibe and fresh excitement to shopping.

Situ Live is a great example of a unique model opening this year at Westfield, London, offering lifestyle brands the chance to partner up and showcase in exclusive spaces bringing their products to life in a captivating, entertaining way.

It will allow shoppers to enjoy and experience a multitude of innovative products all in one place, demonstrated by charismatic presenters in a theatre style setting.

COVID-wise, we are not out of the woods yet – indeed the Centre for Retail Research predicts full recovery will not occur until next year.

But from where we are sitting (at our kitchen tables, on our laptops) there is a buzz about 2021 and all that it may bring when we can finally breathe again.

In the meantime we are confident modern retail will do everything in its power to not just keep the lights on, but to stay creative, connected and meaningful.

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