2021 in review - the year in omni-channel retail

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 30, 2021
What shape for retail in the Vaccine Economy? At the end of 2021, that's a question to which the answer is still evolving...


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Investing in AI

Of course, retail, in common with every other business sector, needed to have an AI story in 2021…

Taxing e-commerce

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.

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