This article was originally published in Chain Drug Review.
Congratulations, you made it! 2021 was a year of transformation for both brands and retailers. Massive supply chain disruptions forced us to pivot when products ran out-of-stock. Retailers rushed to initiative delivery programs to accommodate shoppers’ needs. And as costs skyrocketed, further adjustments were made to ensure our endeavors were financially sustainable.
As we think ahead to the rest of 2022, it’s important to recognize these transformations and the journey we went on to make them. They took initiative. Persistence. Know-how. Courage. Resources. Most importantly, they took people, and during a time where labor was scarce, people overworked and overwhelmed, and a worldwide pandemic breathing down our necks.
Looking ahead to 2022 and beyond, here are some of the most pressing shopper and commerce themes:
- Transparency becomes the most important shopper value — According to WSL Strategic’s New Shopper Truths, sustainability is out, and transparency is in. Almost half (47%) of shoppers feel the terms “sustainable” and “environmentally safe” have been reduced to marketing buzzwords. Instead, “transparency” is in. “2/5 (of shoppers) want a company that has made a value-based change to communicate it better — explain what you have done for the environment, your employees, and to make ingredients safer.”
Shoppers aren’t looking for perfection — they’re looking for honesty on where brands, and retailers, are on their journey to a more sustainable future.
- Ultra-fast delivery and other new shopping behaviors take hold — At the center of this change is the shopper, who also transformed in the face of crisis.
Grocery and health and personal care seem to have sustained the most change of all categories. Although overall e-commerce penetration only increased less than two percentage points in 2021, the grocery category in particular saw tremendous growth online, with Winsight Grocery Business citing that 43% of Millennials shop for most of their groceries online.
And while many shoppers still cite price and assortment as primary factors in their decision, ultra-fast delivery has taken off, with over $6 billion in external funding channeled to companies such as Go Puff that provide those services, according to Coresight Research and public records.
In addition, lack of product availability and fewer brick-and-mortar shopping trips drove shoppers to be willing to brand switch at significantly higher rates. According to a recent study by McKinsey, for example, 75% of shoppers cited trying new shopping behaviors, versus 45% pre-pandemic.
Lastly, social commerce and livestreaming have taken hold as shoppers spend an hour or more per day online versus pre-pandemic.
- Retailers look for new revenue streams to offset shipping costs and increased online returns — Shifting more business to buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS) and ship-to-home to accommodate shopper behavioral changes presents new profitability challenges for retailers. As a result, many of them are getting creative to drive additional revenue streams.
CVS has focused on making their brick-and-mortar stores health care destinations, while most major players in grocery and drug have a retail media platform to collect advertising revenue from manufacturers. Kohl’s leans into its partnership with Sephora to help cover real estate costs as physical store sales dwindle. Walmart offers free Spotify subscriptions for shoppers who join Walmart+.
Amazon opens up additional channels for subscription and advertising revenue such as Luna (online subscription gaming) and Twitch (livestream gaming). Their rumored acquisition of Peloton or another digital fitness ecosystem would present them with an additional platform for advertising, and a rich one at that. Exercise videos are the consumables category of digital content, as shoppers often watch them repeatedly, driving repeat traffic to subscription platforms.
- The metaverse, including virtual worlds, opens up for commerce — If you have children at home, you may understand the pull of the virtual world, especially for young people. Americans spend more time online than doing any other activity. And while physical commerce in the metaverse is only rumored, virtual commerce is already the norm for players on virtual worlds such as Roblox, Fortnite, Meta’s Horizons, and others. In fact, experts say that the metaverse is projected to be a $10 trillion to $30 trillion opportunity within the next decade.
In addition, GWI’s annual trends report shows that gaming has overtaken all forms of media in terms of hours spent, including broadcast television, social media, and others. Streaming services, social media, and digital commerce compete for our hours and minutes. We’re in the era of the attention economy, and given how compelling the virtual world is — and its ability to add dimension to our flat, two-dimensional Zoom world — virtual commerce for physical goods is coming soon. The metaverse is the new marketplace.
The spatial environment feels convincingly real, creating opportunities for shoppers to interact with all types of virtual products and shopping environments in physical ways. Vans, for example, has a world and shopping environment in Roblox, where players can purchase virtual merchandise while performing skateboarding stunts and learning about the brand experience.
First movers are rewarded.
To maximize these future opportunities with gusto, whether you are a consumer brand or retailer, consider the following:
- Lead with transparency — The shopper needs to understand your sustainability journey. Remember, they don’t require perfection, just honesty on what brands are doing to make a difference.
- Experiment — Plant seeds and tend to your (virtual) garden. Whether it’s the metaverse, retail media advertising and experimenting with new shopper targets or making packaging more sustainable, brands and retailers who experiment now will have more learnings under their belt as the world turns more virtual.
- Reduce friction — Tighten up your shopper experience flows in your physical or online stores. For brands, aim to reduce cost between production and consumption. As business shifts online, margins are compressed. Seeking out new revenue streams to offset some of the costs (retail media platforms, shipping, etc.) of our new world will serve organizations well.
Andrea Leigh is founder and chief executive officer of Allume Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.