4 Omni-channel retail trends 2021

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Consumers have had a taste of the benefits of omni-channel retail from some of their favourite brands over the last year, and businesses that fail to connect their sales channels are likely to fall short in the year ahead. Let’s explore some of the top omni-channel retail trends set to improve the overall customer shopping experience in 2021.

Artificial Intelligence

Previously a bit of a gimmick, Artificial Intelligence is looking to be a big game-changer in the omni-channel retail space.

Gartner predicts that 75% of organisations will shift from piloting to operationalising AI technologies by the end of 2024. And, by 2025, revenue from the AI software market is set to reach over $100 billion globally.

While one of the main benefits of AI is to enhance the online customer experience, it can also massively benefit businesses behind the scenes, monitoring stock levels and analysing customer shopping behaviour. Some AI functions we can expect to see more of in the omni-channel retail sector are:

Chatbots

Website chatbots provide quick and efficient customer service 24/7, handling multiple queries at a time and leaving humans to focus on the more in-depth issues. Chatbots learn from each experience and are becoming more intelligent. Paint expert AkzoNobel integrated ‘Where to Buy technology’ into the chatbot on its ‘Flexa’ brand website. The chatbot now has the ability to display a list of local retailers with stock availability and enable customers to buy products via the chat.

Personalised shopping experiences & inventory management

AI algorithms (think Netflix) can be used to provide customers with personalised recommendations online. Research shows that 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalised experiences, and 89% of US marketers report increased revenue due to personalisation on their websites or apps.

AI can be used as a tool to aid inventory management and stock control. The technology can save businesses time by performing everyday tasks like keeping track of stock levels and ordering more stock when it’s low. It can also save businesses money by monitoring shopper behaviour and product trends and predicting future market demand.

Search functions

AI search functionality includes voice search and visual search. With voice search, customers can use a smart device to ask a query. More than half of smartphone users currently engage with voice search technology, and 40% of US households own a smart speaker device. With visual search, customers upload an image and receive search results displaying the exact product or similar items. 62% of Gen Z and millennial consumers want visual search capabilities more than any other new technology.

Shoppable videos

Having the ability to see products from different angles is extremely helpful when shopping online. Customers have been able to make in-app purchases through their favourite social media platforms for a while now, but shoppable video is set to become more popular in 2021 and beyond.

Example of shoppable post on Instagram @maylijewels

Instagram, one of the biggest social media platforms, allows brands to tag in-feed images and videos with their products and recently introduced a similar function for IGTV, Instagram Stories, and Instagram Live. It won’t be long before it’s available on Reels, too, with testing said to be underway.

Expect to see lots more live video content with shopping functionalities in the year ahead, too. As well as Instagram Live, various platforms allow brands to showcase and sell their products to viewers, including Amazon Live, CommentSold Live, PopShop Live and BuyWith.

Instant delivery

Nothing says e-commerce like customers wanting everything instantly – product information online, customer service and, of course, delivery. In fact, according to Sendcloud, 41% of consumers abandon their shopping cart due to long delivery times. But what is a ‘long’ delivery time today? 96% of consumers believe ‘fast delivery’ means same-day delivery, and 56% of online shoppers aged 18-34 expect next-day delivery. The standard 3-5 days delivery has begun to feel like a lifetime to most shoppers, thanks to ‘the Amazon effect’.

Notorious for next-day delivery with its Prime function, Amazon also offers same-day and express delivery services in certain locations, as well as their Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service.

Instant delivery is going to become more prevalent in the coming years. It works by connecting online and offline channels, utilising in-store stock and proximity to consumers. For smaller businesses, localised instant delivery could offer a way to shift in-store stock that’s not selling.

As a small or medium-sized business, it can be hard to offer such a fast turnaround due to fulfilment and logistics constraints. But, faster delivery options will no doubt put you ahead of competitors in what’s going to be a competitive year for retail.

Online marketplaces

It is definitely not a new trend but the one to have an eye on. Online marketplaces like eBay, Amazon and Alibaba are growing in popularity, offering a wider market reach for businesses and a one-stop-shop for consumers. eBay, Etsy and Amazon are among the most popular online marketplaces in the UK and US, but it’s not just about the big players – smaller retailers want in on the action, too. Data from Gartner reveals that 15% of medium to high-GMV e-commerce businesses will have created their own marketplaces by 2023.

Intel, one of Hatch’s clients, is a great example of how brand marketplaces can aid collaborations and increase sales. Through its online marketplace, Intel lists a range of products, including laptops and tablets, that are powered by its processor. When a customer clicks on a product, a list of stockists appears, allowing them to complete the purchase at a retailer of their choice.

Regardless of the top omni-channel retail trends, 2021 is the year to get rid of complex buying journeys and provide customers with a stellar experience and a simple path to purchase that keeps them engaged. You only have a matter of seconds to engage your audience online, so make each one count.

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