The Future of Retail: Trends for 2021


One thing’s for sure — change is inevitable. It happens in every industry, and retail is no exception. Retail has been evolving for years, well before anyone had even heard COVID-19. 2021 will be no different, and we can expect big changes. To keep up, retailers will have to evolve right along with the rest of the competition or they will find themselves left in the dust. Here are some of the trends to look for in 2021 that will have an impact this year and in the years to come.

Rationalizing Physical Spaces

Even though there has been a major shift to online delivery retail models, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going to disappear. They will still be a factor in the economy, but retailers will have to rationalize their stores. For example, location will be more important than ever because consumers are looking for convenience. They have the ability to buy pretty much whatever they want online, so if it’s difficult or takes too long to get to a store, they won’t go.

Safety and convenience will be more important than ever as well. Retailers will have to make their stores as safe as possible for shoppers who are now used to social distancing and mask-wearing. This could mean laying out stores to keep traffic flowing in a certain direction or continuing to limit the number of shoppers allowed in the building.

Part of this rationalization involves the display floor itself. In the past, retail stores were designed to encourage browsing and looking through racks and bins. Now, it should be easier than ever to see what is for sale. This means having dynamic displays that attract the eye and highlight products. There should be as little as possible hidden from the consumer, whether that means wider shelves or installing a variety of display pedestals for specials and high-interest products.


Technology will have to be an integral part of every retailer’s strategy going forward. Customers are looking for convenience and safety, and technology can help with both of those. For convenience, retailers must have a strong connection between their online presence and their in-person shopping. Curbside or drive-thru pickup will become commonplace. Customers should be able to order something at home through a web portal and pick it up almost immediately without having to go deep into the store.

Technology can also help with safety. No-touch payment is already incredibly common. There are even stores experimenting with no-serve checkout that use scanners to detect what a customer is buying and charge their payment method as they walk through the exit barriers of the store. This not only helps prevent physical contact, it means fewer queues of people waiting for cashiers or self-checkouts.


Retailers have to do whatever they can to keep their customers in the face of rising competition from online services. That means getting creative and providing exceptional services by personalizing as much as possible. For example, having a personal shopper used to be a service for boutiques catering to the elite. Now, more retailers are going with appointment shopping and personalized service to make every customer feel special. With online analytics, they can provide personalized shopping suggestions and send them by email or via a handwritten postcard. The overall customer base for brick-and-mortar retail is shrinking, so smart retailers have to figure out how to get the most out of the customers they already have and every new customer who walks through the door.

Niche Retail Based on Values

Shoppers are more concerned with buying from retailers that reflect their values than ever before. Yes, there has been a big shift to online retailers and big-box stores in recent years. However, there is also a portion of the population that wants to push back against those types of stores. Those shoppers want to spend their money at places that reflect their environmental, political, or social values, or even their health beliefs. It can be hard for a retailer to prove that they are part of a certain values-based niche, but marketing themselves as such could provide big gains. Conversely, companies that are seen to be operating in bad faith or doing something that is damaging to the environment could find themselves in trouble quickly.

There’s no doubt that the world has changed, and the retail sector has changed along with it. To compete, stores will have to do everything they can to keep the customers they have along with attracting new ones. Keep an eye on these trends as we move through 2021 and retail stores evolve along with the rest of society.