• Sarah Howlett

3 Trends and 9 Companies shaking things up in Retail in 2021

As a huge fan of retail (and not just shopping), trends within the industry have interested me for a while, and, given I’m co-managing PwC’s Scale Retail Programme with GrowthBuilders, what better time to jump on the blogging bandwagon? In this blog, I wanted to share some of the trends and technologies that are shaping the future of the way we understand retail.


A lot of the media content around the retail sector has been pretty negative over the past year, and it’s clear that retailers without an online platform have suffered, but let’s not forget about the big wins. Asos has reported an increase in retail sales, revenue and an increased active customer base, and grocery has continued to perform well. With a roadmap out of UK lockdown now in place (bring on April 12th!) and ‘e-commerce’ being promoted from innovative catch-phrase to necessary business model, things really are looking up for retail


There’s a vast landscape of emerging trends and potentially industry-changing solutions out there, if you know where to look (hint - below is a good place to start). Here is my pick of 3 trends disrupting the industry, with a couple of the companies doing their bit to shake things up...


Trend 1: Treat them green to keep them keen


Sustainability may not be new, but it is more relevant now than it has ever been before.


From COP26 to tightening greenwashing regulations, there is (quite rightly) nowhere to hide when it comes to being - or not being - sustainable. But what does that mean for an industry that currently emits more carbon than both shipping and international flights combined?

Estimates show that, in the UK, over 11.5 million tonnes of packaging waste was produced in 2017 (although fortunately around 70% was recycled), and given product and packaging are joined at the hip for now, some retailers have a long way to go to reach net-zero targets.


Where sustainability is concerned, smaller brands can be the biggest source of

inspiration. Upcycling and reselling clothes to increase product life cycles is more popular than ever, as the little but lovely Lemon Fire Official is proving. Elsewhere, skincare brand BYBI is mixing things up across the supply chain, from internally scoring their products based on their carbon impact to recycling their packaging with circular initiatives.


So, what’s out there in B2B that big retailers should know about?


  1. Compare Ethics - turning sustainability data into business value and addressing trust issues around greenwashing, by verifying responsible products.

  2. BCOME - platform enabling textile and apparel businesses to build sustainable supply chains and deliver transparency to customers.

  3. HubBox - simplified click & collect solution, helping retailers reduce their carbon footprint by providing local pick-up options.


Trend 2: The new way to shop


Next up, then. ‘Traditional’ retail isn’t yet a thing of the past, but new trends in this case means new channels and the potential for brands to operate in frictionless, maybe even virtual, marketplaces.


From more familiar apparel marketplaces (e.g. UpGarm who focus on upcycling clothing), to futuristic metaverse malls, it isn’t just the way we interact with products that’s changing, but the whole experience of being a consumer.


Virtual and augmented realities have been around for a while, but an increasing reliance on technology affirms their place on the digital solutions shelf. At a time where many in-person experiences have been suspended, alternative realities might have been given just enough of a foot in the door to stake their claim on the industry. Just take Travis Scott’s Fortnite performance as an example...


  1. HATCH - digital showroom for fashion brands, bringing brand stories to life with focused, personalised content, while reducing samples and helping to save the planet (looks like sustainability really is popping up everywhere!)

  2. Decentraland - a fully decentralised, Ethereum-based world. Need I say more?

  3. Obsess - virtual store platform for experiential e-commerce, enabling brands and retailers to set up a 3D, 360 degree store on their website.


Trend 3: Omnichannel retail


And finally, call me traditional, but I’m not ready for digital to completely replace good old-fashioned shops. Fortunately, I’m not the only one. As in-store shopping experiences are soon to become viable in non-essential shops, combining online and offline channels will be increasingly important.


Although the pandemic has meant that for a lot of the past year, the only non-essential shopping has been online, an omnichannel approach to retail is set to be an important trend for 2021. The balancing act between in-store and online shopping experiences will be one of the challenges facing retailers as ‘normal life’ resumes.


From point-of-sale to shop designs to refined product selection, be prepared for some big changes to the in-store experience. Using sophisticated technologies to enhance and, dare I say it, modernise the customer experience in stores will be an important adaptation for in-store retailers.


  1. YRStore Limited - using intuitive software to create customised experiences for in-store and online customers, enabling a more immersive brand experience.

  2. Rillavoice - ditching surveys, Rilla builds voice recognition software to capture important insights from conversations in brick and mortar retail.

  3. Situ Live - creating a new model for experiential retail, through storytelling and live demonstrations. Launching in Westfields, London this year - watch this space!


To sum up, then. Yes, it’s been another tough year for in-store retail, but out of this hardship has emerged the adaptability and digital transformation that sets the industry up for an effective recovery. Going digital was always in the pipeline for most retailers, the pandemic just sped up the transition, and many retailers have been able to position themselves favourably for many of their (particularly younger) consumers as a result.


Likewise, many sustainable retailers have been steadily benefiting throughout the pandemic by publicising the measures they have taken to move to a net-zero future. The lockdowns have given many of us more time to think about our own actions, and what we can do to support sustainable initiatives, hence an increased desire to shop locally, seasonally and ethically. It’s worth remembering that, more and more so, customer loyalty lies with the ethical.


If you’re a Founder of a cool retail tech company, reach out to hear about our Scale | Retail Programme 2021. Or, if you’re an interested reader, let me know what you think about the future of retail by leaving a comment!


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