After COVID drove a societal shift online, 2021 was a year when the retail sector of the Vaccine Economy started to take shape with a return to the real world shopping experience, while a host of new developments continued to emerge - some positive, some considerably less so. By year end, the next steps in the retail journey are still not set in stone.
Supply chain crisis
As COVID put more pressure on production and shipping of goods, a global supply chain crisis set in, one far more serious than the great toilet roll shortages of March 2020. The largest retailers took to buying into their own shipping and carrier options, but for smaller firms, gaps on the shelves - both physical and virtual - were a real problem…and one that carries on into the New Year.
- Unhappy Holidays ahead as Coupa study finds supply chain crisis leaves retailers pessimistic
- Mind the Gap! Supply chain crisis punches hole in retailer's bottom line, but speeds up digital transformation...apparently
- What supply chain crisis? Target CEO Brian Cornell predicts an omni-channel Holidays boom
The importance of fulfilment
Tying back to the supply chain crisis, 2021 saw a continuation of the realization among retailers of the importance of the last mile. How to get goods into the hands of consumers is now a competitive differentiator that’s only going to get more important in 2022.
- Home Depot delivers a major win for Walmart's new e-commerce Delivery-as-a-Service offering
- FedEx ties up with Salesforce as e-commerce boom delivers fresh challenges for the logistics sector
- Why urban drone deliveries are an insane idea - flying above the hype
- I'm Amazon, fly me! - Amazon Air ups the stakes against FedEx in e-commerce delivery and fulfilment
Striking the omni-channel balance
While the delivery of vaccines enabled some form of tentative return to normality and saw shoppers return to the stores and the malls, the online genie is well and truly out of the bottle for most of us. More than ever before, retailers need to strike the right balance between online and offline availability and capabilities. Those who’ve fared the best through 2021 have been those who put in that omni-channel foundational spadework in the pre-COVID days.
- The ‘Great Uncertainty’ is over; here comes the ‘Greater Uncertainty’ - omni-channel retail’s relationship with the post-COVID consumer
- Monday Morning Moan - let’s get physical, but retail has to change if this is to be a long-term relationship
- As 'normalization' kicks in and shoppers head back to the store, can online pureplays like Wayfair furnish a Vaccine Economy future?
- Salesforce data - connected shoppers have higher expectations for what they demand from retailers in the Vaccine Economy
- Digital sales slow down at Target as omni-channel consumers return to the stores - the future lies this way?
Practical learnings from COVID
A common theme across the year from many retailers was what COVID-enforced changes in operational and organizational behavior could be taken over into the Vaccine Economy.
- Vaccinated Retail - digital learnings from the COVID crisis hold firm at Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch
- Omni-channel retail realities in the Vaccine Economy - learnings from Walmart, Macy's and Lowe's
The new reality for online grocery
Online grocery shopping was the key exemplar of the shift to digital for retailers and consumers alike at the height of the pandemic. While shoppers have returned to the aisles to do the weekly food run to some degree, the convenience of online delivery or store pick-up has been drummed into millions of people who previously hadn’t experienced this sort of shopping. That leaves grocery giants facing ongoing pressure to enhance their omni-channel platforms and services as significant competitive differentiators.
- Building out digital real estate - Sainsbury's scales up its omni-channel clout
- Changing the business to be "more digital" - Walmart's challenge as the Vaccine Economy's 'new normal' takes shape
- Albertsons - bringing "joy to grocery shopping" through a digital overhaul
- The new world of grocery shopping - online and big warehouses, according to Ocado
- Retail in transition - Kroger's omni-channel clout pays off as shopping patterns take shape for the Vaccine Economy
- Never the same again? M&S has found digital religion at last, but can an 'omni-everything' mindset translate into a monetized customer base?
A Blue Friday
As we approached the Holidays and what was traditionally the busiest period of the year for retailers, results were mixed in 2021. While it wasn’t a case of Christmas being cancelled, Black Friday was more of a Blue Friday for some retailers as the Holiday buying season reached back into the year even further than before.
- Everything riding on Cyber Monday as online sales on Black Friday deliver mixed results
- Retail faces some big questions in the Vaccine Economy, but Christmas isn't cancelled, says Salesforce's Rob Garf
The customer isn’t always right
How fed up are you with COVID being trotted out as the first line of defence - ie excuse - for poor customer service? Clearly there is some legitimacy in some cases for the pandemic’s disruption being accountable for shortcomings, but nearly two years into a new world of working, it’s a rationale that’s increasingly threadbare. The reality is that customer service models and their underlying systems have all too often been found wanting when exposed to a new pressure. It’s a great time for CRM providers to pitch upgraded offerings to the retail sector.
- What if the customer isn't always right? COVID learnings from two UK retail institutions - John Lewis and Boots
- Consumer patience with blaming COVID for bad service just ran out - one bit of the 'old normal' makes a comeback
Investing in data analytics
Getting to know and understand your customer ought to have been a retail 101 anyway, but the past year has seen more and more high profile investments in data analytics tech among retailers which desperately need to get up close and personal with their often fickle and persuadably disloyal consumers.
- H&M CTO Alan Boehme - how the retailer uses digital and data to fashion new business trends in retailing
- Carrefour offers brands new, safe ways of accessing its customer data
- Working with data in motion at clothing brand Boden
- Domopalooza 2021 - the analytics takeaway from Yum! Brands, the fast food firm that's also a digital company
- The Home Depot builds a firm data foundation with Google Big Query to meet changing customer demands
- Brewing up a strong data foundation with Tableau - Starbucks gains critical insight into consumer behavior, store usage and...er, restrooms
Investing in AI
Of course, retail, in common with every other business sector, needed to have an AI story in 2021…
- Drinking from the AI fountain at H&M - democratizing AI in retail
- Re-inventing retail - Walmart’s Global CTO on cloud shifts, augmented reality and turning machine learning to cost-saving good use
- AI in Retail - automating supply chain management and fulfillment at Wakefern and Loblaws
- AI in Retail - Ocado goes bananas for robot food pickers
The issue of digital services providers paying their fair share of taxes compared to real world businesses has long been a contentious issue, a classic example of ‘something must be done’ syndrome in political circles. The problem with ‘something must be done’ is that politicians then follow up all too often with ‘This is something. This must be done!’, without always considering the knock-on effects of what are essentially PR-friendly policy decisions. So it is with taxation and its impact on e-commerce. This is most definitely a theme we will return to in 2022.
- Monday Morning Moan - Rule Britannia on digital services taxes? Joe Biden may beg to differ...
- Biden bares his teeth - US levels tariff threat at UK over Digital Services Tax
- 'Je ne regrette rien,' says France's defiant digital minister, but a multilateral Digital Services Tax solution is the only way forward
- New e-commerce taxes might help refill government coffers, but the knock-on effects are a lot more complicated - and dangerous