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Retail Execs Weigh In: Which Pandemic-Fueled Trends Will Stick Around?

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a roundtable discussion with several of the retailers in attendance at SuperFriday. So, what is SuperFriday? The event, hosted by Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI), brought together many of retail's most prominent thinkers to discuss the latest trends in the industry – in a virtual environment.

Typically, the event is dubbed SuperSaturday, and is in person in New York City on the Saturday before NRF. But as with everything else in the past 10 months, it looked different this year. Despite SuperSaturday becoming SuperFriday and moving online, the event still offered a great way to get in the NRF mood, connect with others in the industry, and hear more about the work RetailROI has been doing.

Certainly a highlight of this year's SuperFriday was the opening keynote featuring Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC. With charisma and sincerity, McDaniels relayed his personal journey with depression, finding out he was adopted, and ultimately co-founding The Felix Organization to provide inspiring opportunities and enriching experiences for children growing up in foster care.

In addition to hearing informative and engaging presentations, attendees were also afforded the opportunity to join roundtables to have candid conversations with others in their industry.

The roundtable hosted by Aptos centered on the 2021 road to recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, and what these retailers' expectations are for the year ahead. As a marketer, I found it incredibly helpful to gain firsthand insights into the main focuses and concerns for retailers in 2021.

General Outlook

Overall, the general viewpoint for our participating retailers was optimistic and opportunistic. While they had dealt with many of the challenges faced by the retail industry last year, each of these organizations also saw incredible growth in their online sales, and many experienced overall growth in their retail categories as well.

For most, the plan seemed to be to continue capitalizing on the profitable trends that had emerged, and to push for aggressive sales in the first part of the year. There also appeared to be a consensus that the second half of the year was more of an unknown.

Pandemic-Fueled Trends: Are They Here to Stay?

Health and Wellness: Much of the discussion centered on some of the trends that emerged in retail in 2020, and which ones appear to be sticking around. One health and wellness retailer had a positive outlook for their industry, despite ongoing supply chain challenges. "There was already a trend toward [the category], and COVID accelerated it," they said. "We think it will keep growing and it's here to stay."

Livestreaming: Now, from a broader viewpoint of retail, we at Aptos do think livestreaming will continue to have its niche. However, our roundtable retailers were not sold on it. While one of the retailers mentioned getting good results from previous livestreaming efforts with their collection designers, the main purpose of livestreaming was to drive traffic into the stores. So, the conversation turned instead to other sales channels and marketing efforts that have been fruitful for these retailers over the past several months. This included great success with marketplaces, and a positive consumer response to more emotion-focused messaging.

Curbside: Curbside pickup became a true necessity this past year, but the retailers had mixed opinions on the service beyond the pandemic. For some, curbside and BOPIS helped increase average order value and prevent issues with delivery. For others, it was not a huge draw for customers, or was too complicated to coordinate with closed stores.

Buy Now, Pay Later: Another trend gaining steam right now that received mixed responses in our conversation was buy now, pay later. Perhaps my favorite comment from the roundtable discussion was one retailer saying that right now, they really enjoy the "buy now, pay now" model. While several retailers felt payment plan solutions were not currently relevant for their market or region, at least one organization was fully on board. With a low cost to implement and a younger target audience, one retailer mentioned that they believed "buy now, pay later" to be a strong trend moving forward.

Delivery: Everyone knows order delivery has had its challenges during the pandemic, leaving retailers to forge their own creative solutions to various issues. Even now, with shipment limits and overloaded carriers disrupting the flow of goods, retailers are still facing uncertainties around delivery times and reliability. At least a couple of the participating retailers have expanded their delivery network in order to combat delays, often finding more reliable service with smaller carriers or alternative options like Instacart. With fewer products moving between stores, one retailer has even repurposed their own delivery trucks to bring shipments directly to the carrier's hubs in order to reduce time and costs.

Accelerated Innovation: Another widespread trend we have seen across industries is the pandemic's impact on the speed of transformation. Two of the participants in particular expressed that the pandemic was the final turning point for overdue innovation or improvements. One specialty retailer mentioned closing unprofitable stores that had been dragging along for years. Another general merchandise retailer offered up long-considered improvements to their online fulfillment process that saved significant time and costs, but previously faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles to adoption.

Closing Thoughts

While many of the SuperSaturday regulars lamented the impossibility of having the event in person this January, the one thing we can say for all the virtual events right now is that they open the opportunity for more people to attend and experience the presentations and roundtables. Given my current role, it's unlikely I would have traveled to New York for NRF and SuperSaturday had it been hosted in New York in January. (Plus, I don't know that my Texas born and bred self would have been able to handle the January temperatures in New York.)

So, for me to get to be a fly on the virtual wall for an inspiring keynote, several insightful sessions and an open roundtable was a unique opportunity and great introduction to the "Super" RetailROI event format. Whether the next one is in person or online, I highly recommend the event to anyone in retail for a day well spent networking, learning from peers and supporting a great cause.

Editor's Note: Speaking of this great cause … stay tuned for an upcoming blog that explores why RetailROI is an organization near and dear to the hearts of many at Aptos. Through event sponsorships, service trips and donations, we have been privileged to help support RetailROI's mission to raise awareness and provide real solutions for orphans and vulnerable children worldwide.