Despite the economic impacts of COVID-19, retail benefitted from significant growth in 2020.
Unsurprisingly, eCommerce has boomed and as of November 2020, online shopping purchase growth was tracking strongly at 72.9% year-on-year, according to data from Australia Post. Between March and October of 2020, over 8.5 million households shopped online – an increase of 13.7% compared to the same period in 2019.
Given the collective shift to online shopping, can we expect to see the same levels of growth from the retail industry in 2021? These are some of the year’s biggest predictions.
AI will shape our shopping experiences
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies will continue to create shopping experiences that are completely tailored to the individual. One such example of this is Amazon, which has said it will be using AI to predict the context of customers’ search queries and improve online product discovery on its platform. Smaller retail businesses will need to focus on creating a highly personalised, convenient and seamless end-to-end customer experience to remain competitive.
IoT-enabled retail will continue to rise
More companies are turning to technologies such as beacon networks to enable personlised customer experiences in brick-and-mortar stores. A beacon network, otherwise known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) applications, allows any brand, retailer, app, or platform to understand exactly where a customer is in the physical store. The beacons allow retailers to send real-time notifications of new products, deals and discounts in the consumers’ immediate area.
Looking forward, use cases for this technology will likely extend to in-store heat maps of traffic flow, mobile payments and shopper behaviour analytics – enabling true Internet of things (IoT)-enabled retail experiences.
Fulfilment will be increasingly autonomous
Over the next year, autonomous initiatives such as drone deliveries and even self-driving vehicles could enter the retail space to provide streamlined and cost-effective logistics and fulfilment solutions.
Several existing technologies could be introduced here, including AI to manage logistics and routing; blockchain to maintain security along supply chains; and digital twinning to visualise and synchronise the fulfillment process at every stage of the supply chain.
Robots will do more work
In Japan, a humanoid robot named Pepper has been serving customers at Softbank stores and at Nestlé, Nissan, and Carrefour in Japan since 2017. Pepper is able to read emotions with sensors in his eye sockets and is able to talk, move and communicate with customers.
But there’s more to come: future applications of retail robots could include managing customer data (favourite colour, design and size), inventory stock checks and point-of-sale payment – all done more efficiently, with zero fatigue or demands for more pay or shorter working hours.
In-demand retail roles for 2021
In the brick-and-mortar space, retail professionals could be feeling the squeeze as retailers reduce headcount. However, there is still a demand for specialist retail workers within luxury and premium retailers, where consumers tend to seek advice and guidance from expert staff. In particular, skilled merchandise planners will be highly sought-after, especially given the current shortage of candidates with experience in retail markets overseas, such as China.
In the online retail sphere, eCommerce managers and specialists, online product managers and category coordinators will be in high demand. Professionals with strong digital and analytical skills, as well as FMCG experience, will be a top pick for job opportunities in 2021.
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