6 Omnichannel Trends to Look for in 2021: Predictions for the Future of Retail

masked shopper in store

What’s next for the world of omnichannel retail?

Usually, you’d look to the past year and assume many of the same trends will continue in 2021. But it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room: 2020 brought massive changes to the way we shop. 

People shifted to buying more online (to the tune of 43% more this September, year over year). And increased social distancing means an omnichannel approach is now a necessity for retail store owners.

These changes won’t just be temporary, either. Expect long-term changes in customer behavior. Customers are fast adapting to a new reality…and so should you.

To help us figure out which omnichannel trends will come to define 2021, we asked some of the top omnichannel retail experts for their predictions. Here’s what they see on the horizon.

The Future of Retail 2021

We pored over data from more than one million merchants on Shopify and collected survey insights from consumers all over the world to get the full picture of what 2021 has in store for brick and mortar retail.

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Trend #1: Social selling through video content

Consumers spend about one-third of their time online watching videos. And as we’ve noted before, customers are up to 85% more likely to buy a product when they’ve watched a video about it. Suffice it to say: this is a perfect time for social selling via video to become a major trend.

“We already see [social selling in the form of video content] gaining popularity,” says Nicole Leinbach Rehyle, founder of RetailMinded.com, about the trend of live selling through apps like CommentSold. “I think influencer selling will begin to be monitored more closely by brands with a core concentration of omni-centric management.”


Source: CommentSold

💡 Want to learn more about video? We recommend checking out YouTube Marketing for Retail and Retailers Who Are Nailing Facebook Live (And How You Can Too).

“Selling direct-to-camera via livestream will continue to grow,” echoed David Whitcroft of Full Stack Finance. This is ideal for influencers with an engaged following who are interested in selling via live videos on Instagram, Facebook, and other social platforms.

The twist will come from the omnichannel approach: selling via video content has been around for years, but technology lets sellers monitor video-sales success across multiple channels. 

The result: more accuracy when tracking your campaigns.

Trend #2: Multi-channel attribution

What technology has made social selling with an omnichannel approach possible? It comes down to attribution.

“With the rise of omnichannel, marketers will increasingly seek verification that their online campaigns are resulting in offline sales,” says Chris Cantino of investment and consulting firm Color.

“Companies who embrace multiple sales channels will pursue analytics that inform a more holistic view of customer journeys…which may transition from online to offline and back again.”

According to Cantino, the most important piece of multi-channel attribution is to start by meeting customers across channels, wherever they are. From there, you can deploy cross-channel analytics to study your omnichannel performance.

multichannel attribution google analytics

This is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this environment, small businesses can only thrive by getting creative with their approaches. Along the way, multi-channel attribution lets you track omnichannel success with greater accuracy.

📚 FURTHER READING: Learn how to quantify your retail store's impact beyond sales and measure how they influence customer acquisition costs, customer lifetime value, and more..

Trend #3: A greater emphasis on community

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the psychological impact of a worldwide pandemic.

Polling firm Gallup noticed an uptick in feelings of disconnectedness, less than a few months into the various lockdowns. These feelings especially hit the 18–34 age group, meaning this trend may have staying power well beyond 2020 and 2021.

gallup panel connection to friends and family

Source: Gallup

Is it any surprise that customers will look for a sense of community from their favorite brands? 

“People are still in this holding pattern with COVID and feeling less connected,” says Alicia Thomas of PostScript, an SMS marketing platform. She believes this trend will lead to higher expectations for the customer experience. This is especially true when it relates to returns and shipping notifications. 

In our post on businesses creating a sense of community, we dove into a few possible omnichannel approaches, including:

  • Minimizing distance between business and consumer. Social distance is a good idea, but logistical distance is another matter. Velasca, an Italian shoe brand, fostered a sense of community with its customers by paring away the layers of distributors and resellers and showing how its products go straight from their warehouse to the buyer.
  • Giving customers a role. Purpose Jewelry uses artisans to craft its pieces, employing survivors of human trafficking. It incorporated this element into an omnichannel approach. Purpose Jewelry’s #SparkofHope email campaign included direct quotes from its artisans, displaying the community behind the brand. This invites customers to see their role in employing these at-risk artisans with every purchase made.

Omnichannel technology paired with a greater emphasis on community is a viable antidote to isolation and customer disconnect.

🤝 Want a real-life example of a retail store that's creating a strong community? We sat down with Kaelin Ruddock and Justin Dela Rosa of vintage streetwear shop Street Cvlture to learn how they're creating community to stay resilient. Read the Street Cvlture story.

Trend #4: Applying customer data offline

“Direct-to-consumer brands have always leveraged data and customer relationships to their advantage,” said Cantino. “Applying this framework to other sales channels will result in increased conversions, more effective promotion, better informed product development, and stronger customer relationships.”

Cantino adds that every customer has a lifetime value. Mixing omnichannel marketing with steadily improving technology will make it easier to measure all customers in terms of lifetime value.

How will this help? 

  • Customers are increasingly omnichannel themselves. A few years back, a Harvard Business Review study found that 73% of customers use multiple channels in their buying journey. In other words, this reality already exists. Applying customer data offline simply acknowledges this fact.
  • Customers prefer it that way. Research has shown that as many as 9 out of 10 customers prefer the omnichannel experience. 
  • Digital habits still apply offline. We’re all familiar with the fact that customers will research a product online before clicking Add to Cart. But increasingly, customers apply the same logic to their offline experience. Google reports that 59% of customers want to Google a product even before making an offline purchase. 

It’s wise to track and leverage the data behind consumer behavior across various channels.

Trend #5: Shoppable video

We’re all familiar with the trend of tapping on an Instagram post to buy the products we see on our phone screens. 

So why can’t the same logic apply to video?

It already does. Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at research and consulting firm Forrester, says: “Shoppable video is the omnichannel trend to watch in 2021.”

It’s easy to see why: If social distancing means retail brands won’t have the live interaction with their customers they previously depended on, shoppable video might be the most viable digital replacement. 

shoppable video

Shoppable video means removing the “logistical” distance between your brand and the customer. But why would you want in on the ground floor? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Opportunities are still emerging. The technology isn’t quite everywhere yet. With Instagram, for example, this workout video from Outdoor Voices is only shoppable on Instagram’s mobile app. In 2021, you can master a burgeoning trend before it’s fully matured.

Shoppable video is an omnichannel solution that can help advertisers target specific segments without feeling intrusive.

Trend #6: Touchless/contactless transactions

We already know that retail store owners like to create in-store apps for their customers. Retail and consumer goods strategist Matt Marcotte says: “Brands will use these apps to provide even more touchless and contact-free transactions. This includes options like local pickup.

In one survey, 67% of respondents said they would likely continue using curbside pickup even after the pandemic. This is more than just an indication of one trend; it’s indicative of overall buyer psychology.

💡 Did you know... Shopify POS provides features like local pickup and delivery, local pickup availability for online orders, and hardware to help with contactless transactions?

Retailers and brands will still push their in-store apps. And if these apps improve the customer experience enough, customers will still enjoy using them. But without these new safety-driven options as part of the package, brands could miss out on omnichannel wins.

This isn’t to say that retail store owners should expect fewer touch points for their customers. If anything, transitioning to a more open and less socially distanced economy will only make omnichannel offerings more relevant.

Consider that just 15 years ago, the average consumer only needed two touch points when buying a product. These days, the average is six. 

touchpoints before sale

Source: MarketingWeek

Customers with that many touch points are going to expect more options at every stage, including:

  • Delivery and logistics
  • Point of purchase
  • Pickup options
  • Social distancing protocols

The surveys show customers are already preparing for this new reality. The only question that remains unanswered is: Are you?

2021 in omnichannel trends: Be prepared

Some trends are obvious: social distancing, for example. But we hope we’ve spotlighted a few trends and expert insights that you may not have considered.

Want to learn more about preparing your retail operation for 2021?

Check out our interview of TC Running and see how it expanded into omnichannel retail and grew online sales by 110% every month since the launch, despite the pandemic.

Read the interview