• Stephanie Thum, CCXP

2021 CX Retail Trends: How to Defy the Dizzying Decline of Brick-and-Mortar

Updated: Apr 10



News headlines like these are enough to send a shot to the heart of Gen-X mallrats:


Microsoft is permanently closing its retail stores

Brookstone to close mall stores, focus on e-commerce business

Zara is closing stores, will focus on online business


As a teenager, I, like many others, loved hanging out with my friends at the mall on the weekends.

But there can be no denying it. Customer shopping preferences have changed.

The tempo of change has only increased with COVID-19. You can see it in these retail store closures, and others.


But while the decline of brick-and-mortar tells us that in-store shopping experiences aren’t the priority for some companies anymore, shifts to e-commerce have created a boon for the technology and talent needed to create great customer experiences.


Here are four 2021 retail trends to watch:

  1. Contact centers will get a new, higher profile.

  2. Delivery experiences count as part of the customer experience.

  3. Online reviews will become more important to sales and to customers.

  4. Customers will continue to be influenced by influencers.

Contact centers will get a new, higher profile:


A 2019 study found that 51% of consumers still want to be able to call you. That percentage could shift even higher now. Customers who used to shop in person will still want to talk to human beings about products, prices, and problems with their online purchases.


But the higher profile for contact centers won’t come without challenges.


COVID-19 made contact center operations more complex. Almost overnight, agent-work-from-home models and collaborative technology tools became a necessity. Contact center leaders had to find new ways to stay on the pulse of their agents’ experiences as employees. Many are still playing catch-up or figuring out how to scale for the future.


Dinesh Sambamoorthy, IT Manager, Digital Experience for Meijer, said that COVID-19 changed customer behavior. That sent Meijer into hyper-focus mode. The retailer has zeroed in on customers’ ease of doing business because that is what customers are looking for.


Customers are turning to their mobile devices to place their grocery orders for delivery or curbside pickup now more than ever before, Dinesh said. Meyer’s that customers don’t want to spend a lot of time shopping. Instead, they want to “build a basket and get out.”


Delivery experiences count as part of the customer experience:


But customers’ experiences aren’t necessarily limited to what happens in your company’s digital channels alone. What happens if you order a new Microsoft Surface Pro and the package never shows up? Or worse, it arrives on your front doorstep in shambles?


It has been known to happen!


A new survey noted that a negative delivery experience impacts customers’ impression of your brand. The same survey showed that one in three consumers will post bad reviews on social media about their poor delivery experience.


But customers also name-and-shame brands’ shipping partners for their handling of packages.

Deliveries are a “moment of truth” as we like to say in the customer experience world. Brands must pay attention to the ripple impact of delivery ecosystems on customers’ experiences.


Online reviews will become critical to sales and to customers:


My anime-loving teenage son recently started working a part-time, after-school job to earn some spending money. He mentioned he wanted to buy some slick, new anime-themed clothing he had seen online. He was ready to buy, he said, because the clothes got great customer reviews.

His decision-making process is completely in line with what’s happening in the world. Customers have limited opportunities to try products in-person, in a retail location prior to purchasing. They will find other ways to go about understanding the experience they are walking into when they make a purchase.


Brands will need to understand how online reviews play in the sales process and get the scoop on the impact of fake reviews. They will also need to consider leveraging AI-powered tools that scan volumes of data from online reviews to better understand customers’ experiences.


Customers will continue to be influenced by influencers:


Almost overnight, the isolation of COVID-19 pushed the whole world to their smartphones and straight into the digital arms of influencers—people with focused followings who can help brands build awareness.


That’s why influencer marketing is working for brands. A report by Top Rank Marketing found that 60% of B2B marketers who use “always-on” influencer marketing models see their campaigns as very successful. Another recent survey found that most marketers (71%) believe influencer marketing is better than other avenues.


If influencer marketing didn’t work, marketers wouldn’t use it. That’s why influencers will continue to have a part in e-commerce.


Reap the rewards or suffer the penalties: CX is the future of retail


With e-commerce in the forefront, customer-focused skills, talents, workstreams, and business approaches will be in demand. This demand will awaken new corners of the entire concept of customer experience.


Rupert O’Halloran VP of Global Commerce GTM of SAP, said it best:

“Rewards for excellent customer experiences have never been higher. Penalties for poor customer experiences have never been more punitive.”

Just like our 1980s and ’90s mall-ready hairstyles and acid-washed, pin rolled jeans had to be updated for modern times, the table stakes for CX are modernizing, too.


We have to be prepared for anything and everything in CX, friends. It’s going to be exciting!


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This article originally appeared on the Future of Customer Engagement and Experience.

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