The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic brought turmoil to the retail industry with consumers having to find new ways to shop, leading to increased popularity of already existing retail trends and a sharp growth in the ecommerce sector as retailers introduce innovative ways to retain a consumer base.

While retailers with some kind of digital presence may not have come through the pandemic completely unscathed, they will have had a much better chance of weathering the turbulence than those with outdated or non-existent online offerings.

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Delivery experience site Sorted CEO David Grimes tells Retail Insight Network some of the digital retail trends that the industry is likely to see more of throughout the coming year.

Dominance of personalisation

According to a survey by marketing company Epsilon, 80% of customers now want personalisation – demonstrating a surge in customer expectations.

To cut through the noise, retailers are using personalisation tactics to tailor the experience around what the customer wants, giving them more choice and recommendations.

By creating a personalised customer experience that extends to the checkout and even post-purchase, customers are more likely to feel emotionally invested, engaged and better-served by the brand.

For retailers, successful personalisation can also drive up that bottom line by boosting basket conversion and customer loyalty. That’s why retailers such as Amazon have expanded their efforts via personalising the checkout experience to give customers more delivery options and convenience.

Offering dynamic delivery options, based on accurate operational and carrier capabilities ensures the customer promise can always be kept.

For example, if customers want next day or a chosen date that’s convenient to them, the retailer can provide a number of options they’re able to deliver for the customer or customise these around their warehouse operations.

This can help save on time and costs as brands can reduce WISMOs and avoid potential hiccups by not making unrealistic delivery promises.

Retailers are taking it one step further to attract and keep customers with personalised, proactive tracking communications to ensure customers are seeing the correct and relevant information at the right time.

Rise in multi-channel servicing

Long gone are the days of offering an item cheaper and faster to stop the customer from going elsewhere. That’s not always enough when customers now expect a fully connected experience.

With the pandemic forcibly shifting the shopping experience online, customers want to be able to seamlessly shift with it, from mobile-to-mobile app to desktop, taking their basket with them as they please.

To create this flawless journey, in 2021 there will be a continued drive to build immersive online experiences cross-platform and multi-channel while giving customers timely updates wherever they want to be served.

Automation growth

As retailers continue to pivot around the challenges caused by the pandemic, the increased restrictions mean less staff on the ground, and more of a focus on automation.

Chatbots, digital shopping assistants and self-serve technology are taking centre stage to help empower customers and reduce customer contacts for CS teams. With the closure of non-essential stores, many retailers are looking to build a better digital connection with their customers.

By using AI tools, brands can be wherever their customers are, and they can serve them round the clock.

While automation and self-serve tech are helping retailers to cut costs, it’s also able to answer complex enquiries without the need for face-to-face interaction, and often on a 24/7 schedule.

In January 2021, online retail sales grew 74%, the highest rate of growth since the first lockdown. With this trend likely to continue, implementing self-serve tracking can help reduce the inevitable surge of final mile delivery enquiries.

Indeed, the ability to take the pressure off of customer service teams while giving consumers a sense of autonomy in their purchases is perhaps why the number of brands using chatbots has skyrocketed by 62% since 2018.

Pandemic silver lining

For all the disruption 2020 brought us, there is a silver lining. Customers are continuing to become even more digitally literate, so there are even more customers online for retailers to attract and retain.

Although this forced retailers to accelerate their plans for innovation almost overnight, they’re getting more creative to reach their customers in new ways.

By forming new partnerships and experimenting with new technology – it’s helping to streamline their operations, deliver a more connected customer experience and they’re making it easier for their customers to shop.