Reflections on a Year in Retail Like No Other

cart in digital background

By Claire Burgess, Director of Paid Media at Incubeta

From unpredictable Black Friday sales, to supply chain issues and the closing of brick and mortar stores, 2021 was an eventful year in retail. As a result, it was a 12 months characterised by three key trends that marketers need to be aware of and build into their plans for 2022.

Influencer Marketing Became a Critical Part of Campaigns

With retailers unable to use their brick and mortar spaces to engage shoppers with traditional visual buying cues — from carefully curated shop window displays and in-store video campaigns — they needed to find new ways to help consumers visualise new styles, new products and new looks.

As a direct result of this, we saw social platforms become much more sought-after for advertising. As we’ve become increasingly isolated with lockdowns, people have become much more reliant on visually lead social platforms, such as Instagram, to keep them connected with what’s going on in the outside world.

Potential shoppers are accustomed to using influencers for inspiration around what to wear or what products to use, as well as getting insights into upcoming trends, for example, 41% of people use Instagram to shop on a weekly basis.

As a result, influencers have transformed campaign strategies for brands across the globe. Once an unmeasurable, almost gimmicky way to sell products, now influencers are the perfect tool for retail marketers to create a new online shop window.

With lockdowns behind us,  influencer marketing is only going to develop further as it provides a vital new way for brands to engage visually with their target audiences at any time from their phones

Augmented Reality Came Into the Mainstream

Augmented reality is not a new tool for marketers. However, we saw brands increasingly embrace the technology as they were forced to explore new ways of enticing shoppers with a tactile experience that resembled brick and mortar shopping.

We are probably all aware that AR has been touted as having been on the rise for years but it’s something the pandemic has accelerated and finally brought into the mainstream, allowing brands to create immersive shopping experiences literally from anywhere.

While we may have to wait sometime for things like AR glasses to become a widely adopted reality, the latest generation of smartphones are more than capable of handling immersive, game-like 3D experiences. This means that marketers can harness the boom in ecommerce to take consumers on another mobile-based journey through augmented realities.

Why is this so important? Research points to the fact that around 22% of returns are due to a lack of consistency around a product’s appearance in real life vs. online.

With consumers becoming increasingly used to shopping online, the reality is that physical store visits may not return to normal anytime soon — so this is a costly issue that brands need to get to grips with quickly.

AR can make physical goods come to life, whether that’s shoes, clothing, computer equipment industrial equipment like forklifts and heavy plant machinery. This allows customers to explore the finer details and dimensions of products from the comfort of their home or office.

The advent of the metaverse is only going to cement this trend, as virtual reality shopping becomes more dynamic and immersive.

Christmas Came Early for Ecommerce

As we swung into the two biggest retail periods of the year at the end of 2021, Black Friday and Christmas, we experienced a dynamic change in shopping behaviour driven by worries about the supply chain and the reliance on ecommerce.

Search behaviour revealed that consumers were preparing to buy early. In October 2021, clicks on keywords such as ‘gift’ nearly doubled year-on-year, and increased a massive 334% compared to  2019.

And this wasn’t just the result of idle browsing, our data revealed that retailers experienced a 19.2% year-on-year hike in revenue generated from the keyword ‘gift’. In fact, in October last year 1 in 5 people on Google were already searching for their stocking fillers.

This created a unique, early winter commercial landscape for 2021 where customers were shopping much earlier than usual leading to a longer run in to both retail events and ultimately flatter peaks than retailers may have expected.

It may suggest that we will never see the peaks that we are accustomed to with retail events. Shopping online allows consumers to buy casually, as opposed to a ‘one-day’ Christmas shop or Black Friday spree. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into 2022.

Much of what we have seen over the past two years in retail, is going to remain. Consumers are unlikely to simply switch their phones off and dump ecommerce. The digital transformation powered by the pandemic as well as the general change in shopper behaviour will remain with us, and brands need to ensure that they are keeping abreast of these trends and ensuring that they are building their activities around them.