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No-one knows what the future of commerce entails but it’s important we discuss it

No-one knows what the future of commerce entails but it’s important we discuss it

12 May 2021
Ben Sillitoe, Journalist, Sillitoe Media

Instead of looking back on what has happened to the world of commerce in these challenging last 12 months, the brands set for success in 2021 and beyond are those with a strong eye on the future.

They are already planning and actioning some fresh approaches and building on the plus points from a period of chaos.

It’s crucial businesses reliant on selling to and engaging with consumers reflect on the pandemic period to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what changes to the status quo it heralded, but – most importantly – forward thinking is required.

That mentality was a key takeaway from March’s virtual eCommerce Expo, which brought together an eclectic mix of brands, agencies, experts and tech suppliers – all focused on what comes next. Digital becoming a more influential channel for sales in the months and years ahead was the clear major talking point, but it’s a case of different strokes for different folks.

Brands need to take into account the wider trends, but build out a unique proposition.

Of course, no-one really knows what is going to pan out. As former Aspinal of London digital boss, David Williams, said at the expo, it’s going to take a year out of lockdown to understand what pandemic trends represent long-term change.

“We don’t really know what the shifts are going to be until probably a year from now, in terms of consumer behaviour,” he explained.

“There’ll be D2C brands that have done really well and offer a new service that consumers like, grocery is definitely going to be completely transformed, but is there going to be a fundamental shift in other verticals – it’s hard to tell.”

It got me thinking the superpower retailers and brands would probably wish for above all else right now is the ability to see into the future.

It was ever thus, perhaps. But right now, as we emerge from a topsy turvy year like no other, some clarity of what is ahead would be arguably appreciated more than ever.

Tom Cheesewright, who describes himself as an “applied futurist”, helped Barclaycard put together research on so-called ‘lockdown legacies’ recently, which aimed to illustrate what the coronavirus fallout means for retail. He agrees there’s a considerable amount of forward thinking going on as we travel the “road to freedom” prime minister Boris Johnson described recently.

“Echoes of this pandemic will be heard long after lockdown is lifted through a sustained shift in our buying behaviours,” the futurist notes.

“Changes we expected to happen over a decade have been condensed into a year, leading us to ask: what's next?”

Similar to conclusions made at eCommerce Expo 2021, he’s pretty certain online and concierge-style services look set to continue, “with shoppers seeking ever greater convenience and clawing back time to spend elsewhere”.

He also adds: “Retailers that can strip friction from their sales process while making us feel special will continue to succeed.”

But he acknowledges it’s not all about digital dominance. Time at home and lack of travel due to lockdown restrictions means “a greater connection with our local community” is sought after by much of the population.

“Suburban stores that have survived lockdown look set to thrive when it lifts,” he predicts.

We cannot know what the future holds, but one thing we can be sure of, however, is that there's another eCommerce Expo on the horizon - and this time, it will be an in-person gathering at ExCeL London.

On 29-30 September, eCommerce Expo and Technology for Marketing will bring together leading players, speakers, thinkers, and suppliers in commerce to gauge the health of business following the lifting of lockdown.
 

BS

Ben Sillitoe 
Journalist 
Sillitoe Media 

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