revisiting predictions retail trends 2020


Revisiting Our Predictions for Retail Trends in 2020

By Fayez Mohamood

Why we’re not throwing away our predictions for 2020 retail trends so fast

A lot of things are predictable. Every January, we see an onslaught of predictions for the coming year and every June we see a lot of midway check-ins on how those predictions are shaking out. 

But 2020 has been anything but predictable.

However, we shouldn’t just throw away our 2020 predictions. In fact, there’s quite a lot we can learn from them.

The Unpredictable Nature of 2020 Threatens Annual Predictions

2020 has been unlike any other year so far. The threat of COVID-19 has led to global shutdowns and forced the world to rethink much of how we live, work and play.

For retail, in particular, we’ve seen enormous swings in shopping behavior and a renewed focus on the purpose of digital. Against this backdrop, many predictions, especially those around the physical elements of shopping, seem futile.

This situation makes it all too easy to throw away the predictions we made back in January and discount our hopefulness for what we’d see this year as “naive.” But maybe that isn’t the best approach.

…Or Does It? Why the Best Predictions Withstand Anything

The best predictions are the ones that hold true no matter what the environment throws at your business. That’s because the best predictions are about future-proofing your business so that it’s not so fragile that a single change to the environment will totally disrupt everything you’ve done.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen numerous disruptions to the retail industry. While they had nowhere near the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, trends like the rise of eCommerce, mobile, direct-to-consumer strategies and the subscription economy completely altered retail. They disrupted well-established businesses, many of whom didn’t survive.

Following these disruptions, one of the primary business goals for any retail organization should have been to increase agility to be able to pivot the business as needed in response to anything that might get thrown its way — expected or not. And any sound predictions should recognize the importance of this type of future-proofing.

Scaling Personalization & Actioning on Data: Why We’re Doubling Down on our Predictions for Retail Trends in 2020

Far from throwing away the predictions we made for retail trends in 2020 back in January, we’re actually doubling down on them because we believe they’re even more important now than ever.

Back in January, we said:

  • The most valuable impact of AI for retail marketing teams will be scaling 1:1 personalization
  • The biggest challenges for retail marketing teams will center around gaining buy-in to hand over decision-making to technology and effectively accessing and actioning on data
  • Scaling email personalization will be a top priority for retail marketing teams and doing so can help achieve other priorities like increasing email revenue, growing repeat purchase rates and improving customer acquisition
  • The biggest roadblock to achieving personalization goals will be taking action on data

In short, we predicted that retailers would need to prioritize scaling 1:1 personalization on email and other digital channels to drive success through increased revenue, loyalty and acquisition. Additionally, we said that effectively accessing and actioning on data and trusting AI-driven technology to make decisions would be critical to achieving that goal.

All of this would have been important no matter what. But in the near 100% digital environment that has categorized much of the first half of 2020, it’s even more important. Consider the following:

  • 1:1 personalization on digital channels is essential to cut through the noise of increasingly crowded inboxes and bridge the gap between digital and physical
  • 1:1 personalization also helps attract shoppers in a value-based way, giving your brand a lever to engage customers that does not center around deal marketing and instead offers benefits around long-term loyalty
  • Providing easy access to customer, behavior and product data and making it possible for your team to take action based on that data allows for 1:1 personalization at scale, particularly as more data becomes available with more shoppers engaging online
  • Introducing AI-driven technology and trusting that technology to handle decision-making for personalization further improves the scale of 1:1 personalization and creates efficiencies to allow your marketing team (no matter its size) to get messages out faster and pivot quickly as needed to react to changes

A Case Study in the Value of Digital Agility: Moda in Pelle

The brands that invested in digital agility early on, for example by scaling 1:1 personalization through AI-driven technology that gives marketing teams the ability to access and action on data, found they were well-positioned to make the necessary changes as the events of 2020 unfolded. That’s because they were already prepared for a digital-first world and had the required agility in their tech stack to pivot strategies as needed. Meanwhile, retailers who hadn’t made these types of investments were left scrambling to catch up.

Take Moda in Pelle. The women’s footwear brand invested heavily in digital technology over the past few years. While the brand saw enormous benefits from these investments early on, perhaps the biggest benefit of having this agility came in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic changed retail overnight and created an environment in which Moda in Pelle relies on digital more so than ever.

“It was always a matter of time for digital to become the primary shopping channel, and retail’s always had pressure to evolve — now it’s being forced to evolve. The competition will increase throughout this year and I think all of us from a digital point of view need to be better than before,” Anil Patel, Director of Marketing & eCommerce at Moda in Pelle, shared with Bluecore on a recent webinar about driving retention and loyalty in uncertain times.

Patel continued: “We’ve got a wider mix of shoppers and their shopping behavior is quite unique. What’s been key for us is the ability to very quickly segment our shoppers and start to get an understanding of what is the best product to show them, and having the flexibility to be as dynamic as we can. The days of ‘machine-gun emails’ and sending everything you could potentially sell to a customer are over — it’s got to be content that really resonates with them.”

The Biggest Lesson for Retailers of 2020: Expect the Unexpected

After several months since the pandemic started, it seems we’re finally starting to rebound. But what exactly are we rebounding to when the “normal” of 2019 was already broken? The world around us is changing more rapidly than it ever has, and the time to take advantage of these changes to shape a better future is now.

Critically, the retailers who were best prepared for the unexpected nature of 2020 — and will likely come out even stronger on the other side — were those who predicted the need to future-proof their businesses by prioritizing digital agility.

What else has reshaped modern retail? And how can you prepare your team for the next wave of retail?  Find out everything you need to know in The Retail Reckoning, which explores what makes retail unique, how retail has evolved over the past 20 years and how brands can prepare for success going forward.

Fayez headshot

Fayez Mohamood

Fayez is co-founder and CEO of Bluecore, a high-growth marketing technology company based in New York City. Bluecore’s AI-driven retail marketing platform is used by over 400 retailers to bring together website, customer and live product insights to match customers with products they love.

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