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Discover the Biggest Consumer Trends in Retail For 2021

What can millions of digital data points tell us about emerging trends in the retail industry? Find out in our new report

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REPORTDiscover the Biggest Consumer Trends in Retail For 2021

2020 saw a revolution in retail. What trends can retailers expect to continue or emerge in 2021?

In this report, we’ll share the results of our analysis of millions of online data points. You’ll learn:

  • The elements of the shopper experience generating the most buzz
  • How livestreams are generating hype and record-breaking sales numbers
  • The trends in ethical shopping that will guide consumers’ purchasing decisions in 2021
  • What emerging trends in delivery and fulfillment you should pay attention to, especially in the food and beverage sector

What will the shopper experience look like in 2021?

Shopper experience conversation has been transforming in recent years as e-commerce has boomed, innovation in retail tech has accelerated, and competition has grown.

To get a better understanding of how consumers feel about different kinds of shopping experiences, we broke the topic down into categories from loyalty programs through to VR experiences and in-app checkout.

The different elements of the shopper experience generated 2m mentions across 2020 (up 27% from the previous year) and inspired 18% more unique authors to share their opinion online when compared to 2019.

Two of the categories we studied stood out in terms of their growth across 2020: Touch-free experiences and livestreams.

Touch free

The buzz around touch-free shopping experiences exploded in 2020.

Meanwhile, the share of voice for ‘touch free’ amongst all the shopper experience categories we studied increased by 24 percentage points in 2020 compared to 2019.

To find key topics within the online conversations around touch-free shopping, we used Brandwatch’s AI-analyst Iris to detect what was driving peaks in conversation. We examined these trends and split them out between what the media were saying and what consumers were saying.

So what made the news around ‘touch free’ shopping experiences in 2020?

In the press, there was a lot of positive buzz regarding how the pandemic was changing the way we shop, with digital adoption around shopping increasing dramatically since the beginning of last year. Even in those early stages of the pandemic, many retailers were innovating.

A number of companies were praised by the media for being at the forefront of innovation in retail by offering technologies like contactless payments or the ability to try on glasses and clothes virtually using online tools.

Here are some typical headlines we saw relating to touch-free shopping experiences in 2020:

  • “Here’s where you can order great prescription glasses online during the pandemic”
  • “Coronavirus pandemic changes how people bank, spend money”
  • “How the pandemic may change the way we grocery shop”

In-store shopping experiences have been very limited for the last year, and retailers started experimenting with new technologies to help consumers try on clothing and accessories without having to be there in person. Through virtual fitting rooms, virtual try-on for eyeglasses, and even virtual makeup makeovers, innovators in the retail industry have made every effort to reduce potential physical contact, making the online shopping experience as close to the in-store experience as possible.

While all the hype around these touch-free shopping experiences early in the pandemic will have driven lots of customers to try the new technology out, has it led to long-term uptake?

Google Trends data suggests it has, with a sustained increase in searches for ‘virtual try on’ since the pandemic was declared.

What were people saying when mentioning “touch free” in their conversations?

While the media seemed to celebrate new technology entering our everyday lives, the conversations between consumers on social media revolved around rather different narratives.

For example, instead of celebrating technology, consumers were not shy about discussing their complaints online. To better understand the negative sentiment behind some conversations, we dug deeper into the frequently shared words and phrases using Brandwatch’s Topic Cluster.

Visualizing commonly used phrases in negative contexts in this way helped us uncover clusters of less-than-enthusiastic users who’ve expressed their opinion on touch-free shopping experiences. We noticed that Apple Pay was a key driver of conversation here, and the mentions related to the payment service not being entirely contactless.

As you can see in the Topic Cluster, Apple Pay is connected to several other subtopics like ‘debit cards’, ‘contactless cards’, and ‘accept contactless’ that together help tell a more complete story.

By looking further into conversation sentiment, brands can faster understand their audience and learn how to anticipate and manage expectations.

Livestreams and social commerce

The second rapidly growing category we wanted to explore further is livestreams. Over the course of 2020, conversation around livestreams grew steadily, with a few spikes around key events.

Mention volume for ‘Livestream’ increased 576% in November of 2020 when compared to the average volume of mentions across 2020.

This increase in conversation around livestreams was caused by the K-Pop band Got7 that went live on the Shopee App, the leading online shopping platform in Southeast Asia, during Shopee’s 11.11 Big Sale.

Shopee has since posted record-breaking sales, achieving 200 million items sold during the day (November 11 2020). According to the marketplace, some sellers saw 10 times more orders on November 11 than on an average day. For example, one merchant recorded over $744K in sales in one day. That’s what you call ROI.

Many have picked up on the results that can be generated by this new way of selling, with two of the biggest e-commerce names – Alibaba and Amazon – experimenting with livestreaming in 2020.

Looking at social commerce generally, there’s been a huge uptick in people discussing the topic this year. Here are some of the top-shared tweets.

1. Stray Kids and Shopee

Just like Got7, Stray Kids, a popular South Korean boy band, also partnered with Shopee at their 11.11 Big Sale. Earlier that month, members of the K-pop group were named Shopee Indonesia brand ambassadors.

These K-pop groups command large followings, and many big brands have responded accordingly with sponsorships and collaborations.

2. @Nikaliye’s call for creators

Social commerce isn’t just about livestreams. Influencers are also a huge part of how social can be used as a platform to sell. This tweet from a Target employee got an incredible reaction in June 2020.

Nikki Aliye, the author of the original Twitter call for black and brown creators, was delighted by the amount of interest and recommendations she received.

3. @Rubiks_Official hops on a trend

Given K-pop group BTS’s groundbreaking popularity, a Rubik’s ambassador decided to celebrate the band’s new release by building a mosaic of one of the singers’ faces out of 725 Rubik’s cubes.

The tweet, that shares a fast motion video of the artist putting the puzzle together, has received a lot of social engagement and was retweeted by the BTS band as well.

According to Rubik’s CEO, Christoph Bettin, the popularity of solving puzzles has soared during the lockdown period. Last year the company saw a major boost in interest, and sales are projected to be up 15 to 20% this year.

Smart social activations like this that tie products to what’s trending are great ways to keep your brand top of mind.

Shopping local, shopping small, and supporting black-owned businesses

Analyzing social data from 2019 through the end of 2020, we noticed three retail trends that have been steadily gaining popularity: shopping local, supporting small businesses, and celebrating and promoting black-owned businesses.

Today’s consumers care a lot about the brands they shop with, and what those companies stand for. They are also interested in who benefits from the money they spend.

Black-owned businesses

The “support black-owned businesses” social media trend saw over 1 million mentions in 2020.

Some of the most popular messages within this trend included:

While the conversation on social media exploded in 2020 around black-owned businesses, there was also an influx of searches on the topic. In June those searches skyrocketed as people searched for brands to support.

It’s now becoming much easier to identify black-owned businesses, with a recent update from Google. The search engine giant just added a “black-owned” label to its Google shopping search results.

Shopping local and supporting small businesses

Twitter provides the space for users to be heard, and for brands to engage and build relationships with their consumers. It’s the perfect platform on which users can share their thoughts about the types of businesses they want to support, and for those businesses to find their audience.

Among conversations about shopping small and local, here are the 10 most popular hashtags that generated interest in 2020.

Search trends confirm that interest in shopping small and local increased in 2020, and both trends seem to be going strong into 2021. As you can see in the chart below, searches for both ‘shop small’ and ‘shop local’ go up in November each year (around Black Friday and gift-giving periods). But across 2020 we started to see unseasonably high interest in both.

Delivery and fulfillment

A rapidly growing demand for convenience without having to go into physical stores in 2020 boosted conversations around delivery and e-commerce fulfillment:

  • Total mentions: +33% when compared to 2019
  • Unique authors: +48% when compared to 2019

As we looked further into the data, we saw a strong uptick in conversations within Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, and India.

While the conversation around delivery and fulfillment is up globally, that doesn’t mean that trends are the same everywhere.

For example, upon looking into conversations country-by-country using Brandwatch’s Topic Clusters, we learned that:

  • The most popular and positive discussions in Nigeria mentioned topics such as delivery nationwide and nationwide pickup.
  • Singapore consumers talked about deliveries being “faster than expected” and autonomous vehicles is a growing topic of conversation.
  • In South Africa, the conversation focused on “free delivery” and “same-day delivery”.
  • Supply chain and last-mile delivery services were India’s most popular discussion topics. The country continues to fight challenges around the last-mile delivery of basic necessities to the areas where people may not have easy access to them. Tackling this problem is a pressing matter for India as it needs to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine to its large population of 1.3 billion people.
  • The hashtag #SaveTheUSPS has been making waves in the United States, as a protest against a rejected bailout for the US Postal Service.

Overall, when we reviewed the different Topic Clusters for the delivery and fulfillment sector, there were a lot of positive conversations around online shopping and delivery services. Yet, we saw some dissatisfaction and unmatched expectations regarding next-day delivery and the costs associated with it. To represent our findings in numbers, out of 4.3m mentions of delivery and fulfillment in 2020, 15% (or 634k) were positive, while 13% (or 561k) had a negative sentiment.

Speaking of delivery, it’s a massive theme in conversations around food and beverage retail in 2020.

A lot has changed in the food industry in recent years. We’ve seen the new dominance of grocery delivery services, meal kits, and food apps emerging one after another, and consumers have a lot to say.

Here’s 2020 in numbers:

  • 17M – Total mentions related to the food industry and trends (+52% from 2019)
  • 7M – Unique authors (+39% from 2019)

Delivery was a key theme in conversations about the food industry and services over the last year. Splitting that out a little further, we can see the kinds of items people discussed ordering for delivery.

While ordering food delivery still has the largest share of voice within these conversations, grocery delivery and alcohol delivery services grew massively in popularity in 2020 compared to 2019.

Besides alcohol, groceries, and ready-to-eat food delivery, there was also steady upward trend for conversation around meal kits.

This trend curve from Google Trends confirms our hunch that people are getting more and more interested in this way of cooking.

Within conversations around meal kits, we spotted “30 minutes”, “home chef”, “healthy food”, and “meals plans” among the common phrases shared. It’s apparent that consumers are looking to broaden their eating experiences by adding healthier alternatives without spending more time in the kitchen.

Frontline workers

Another key trend in positive food delivery conversations is delivery drivers.

This tweet caused one of the biggest spikes in the conversation related to ordering food delivery. With almost 38k retweets and close to 47k comments, this tweet represents the positive sentiment towards frontline workers that’s shared across the internet.

Viewing the Topic Cluster for positive conversation around food and delivery services confirmed the statement above on positive sentiment for frontline workers.

As you can see, the delivery drivers topic is connected to several other subtopics such as ‘essential’ and ‘service’.

Meanwhile, the positive conversation around grocery stores focuses on words like ‘employees’, ‘kind’, and ‘professional’ that all speak strongly about how people feel about the frontline workers.

The Topic Cluster data also shows that people still value grocery stores, especially when they can access multiple services (eg pharmacy) alongside the regular goods they need.

Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.