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As a result of overnight shifts in consumer behaviors, retail today looks quite a bit different than it did just last year. And as the pandemic continues to shape, Deloitte’s 2021 retail industry outlook report asked 50 retail executives and 15 of its own retail subject-matter specialists to “address what the retail world may look like when COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror” and what that means for retailers planning for the future.

In the report, the experts identified four areas as priority as rules are rewritten and investments are made: digital investment going beyond differentiation; supply chains, inventory management and digital user experience operating together; attention to health and safety as it continues to shape consumer behavior, and cost realignment coupled with fresh viewpoints on how to address profitability.

“With the pandemic taking the volume of digital interactions to unprecedented levels, the majority of retailers expect a continued increase in demand for digital engagements through 2021,” said the authors of the report. Notably, only three in 10 of the executives interviewed said they had mature capabilities within digital — meaning plans for “major” e-commerce, contactless capabilities and store technology upgrade investments are underway.

And while digital touchpoints have helped retailers to meet minimum consumer expectations, authors of the report noted it is important that retailers “differentiate themselves as customer acquisitions continue to rise” with digitally native retailers, subscription models, and consumer product companies now standing as “meaningful competition.”

To differentiate, authors said, “the new rule of retail is about looking for new revenue models,” which include subscriptions or memberships and creating new partnerships for an excellent omnichannel experience. Further, as retailers plan digital investments, points to consider were listed as creating connection and convenience through the right portfolio of digital assets, deriving the full potential of data to predict and react quickly, meeting shoppers’ privacy concerns with clarity and transparency, and seeking out digital-savvy talent.

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