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These Top 10 Trends Will Shape Commerce in 2021

The consumer experience has drastically evolved since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted 2020, with obvious implications including an increasing jump in e-commerce spending, a preference for casual apparel and a rise in contactless experiences. But the changes that are both ongoing and in the pipeline across the larger retail ecosystem may not be as pronounced.

Going further into 2021, today’s apparel brands must account for the rise of maximalism, the changing role of what constitutes an authentic content creator and the “selfie industrial complex” among many other trends that will shape what is resonating with consumers.

The rise of maximalism

A direct result stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, shoppers now have higher standards for everything from fashion to food, according to the new report “10 Trends that Will Shape The Future of Commerce.” Since shoppers have largely been stuck at home since March 2020, they are focused on making them their spaces comfortable and enjoyable for quarantine, says retail media research startup Future Commerce, which commissioned the study to shed light on the top developments to look for in the future of consumer retail, cultural shifts and the modernization of technology.

The survey of 1,093 U.S. consumers from November through January, conducted in partnership with research firm Method + Mode, says that 52 percent of shoppers feel that being with their “stuff” makes them happy, while 60 percent say surrounding themselves with things they love makes them feel safe and in control. More than one-fifth (22 percent) even describe themselves as “collectors,” as evidenced by books and trinkets used to liven up their Zoom backgrounds.

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Shopping is entertainment

Consumers have long turned to retail for a dose of therapy, but it’s now more important than ever to bring back the “entertaining” side of shopping to combat the enticingly efficient operations people encounter through e-commerce. The report, which included the feedback of the company’s Future Commerce Expert Network, a group of expert retail and brand operators, says that 51 percent miss “going shopping” as a way to socialize, while 25 percent regularly tune into video shopping channels like QVC or HSN.

Yet while shoppers crave this interaction again, they want it to remain on their own territory and terms—nearly 65 percent say they’d rather interact with people in their own home. And one direct-to-consumer brand has stepped up to the plate.

“During Covid, we opened phone lines. We knew that there would be a big demographic shift of women who had never shopped online before who were probably more comfortable being able to speak with someone versus just clicking around on a website,” Melanie Travis, CEO of Andie Swim, said in the report. “These women were spending in some cases over an hour on the phone chatting with our Fit Experts. We found that people were really craving a human connection during that time. What they ended up becoming were basically therapists for people.”

Brands as performance art

Forty percent of shoppers say they’ve purchased something promoted by someone they follow on social media but don’t know personally, yet only 37 percent are following top-ranking influencers. For example, 22-year-old YouTube sensation Mr. Beast is twice as likely to be perceived as authentic and trustworthy as Kylie Jenner, the report highlights, indicating that content creators are just as critical to creating brand awareness as traditional celebrity influencers.

With Mr. Beast and “virtual celebs” like Riot Games’ created character Seraphine attracting their own crowds yet still not attaining mainstream recognition, these characters are the next generation’s performance artists, the report says, offering unique opportunities to convey brands to today’s consumers.

The product eternal

The rise of secondhand, or “resale,” marketplaces and the budding circular economy are examples of a shifting consumer preference to everlasting products. The report cites Patagonia’s Worn Wear line, which repurposes recycled clothing into one-of-a-kind new garments, as well as Levi’s SecondHand marketplace, as two of the top examples of this emerging trend.

In fact, 81 percent of consumers have actively secured a second life for their items, Future Commerce says. The report also recommends that shoppers donate to charitable organizations and pass along garments as hand-me-downs to divert this merchandise from landfills.

Additionally, the report insisted that resale and luxury can be coexist, stating that “just because something is resale doesn’t mean it’s not luxury. Everyone is a seller today. Even people in luxury markets.”

Digital dysmorphia: the selfie industrial complex

The proliferation of social media over the past decade and the increasing use of these platforms on mobile have made consumers more aware of their features (and perceived flaws) than ever before.  On top of that, marketers have more data on how to sell products to these shoppers.

While 50 percent of consumers say they’re more aware of their appearance as a result of increased FaceTime and Zoom, 38 percent agree they’re more critical of their appearance and of others. Another 26 percent have upgraded their tech for increased on-screen time.

This heightened focus on self will inspire more microtrends in beauty, the report says, as bolder, more extreme “statement” pieces will dominate spending in skincare and fashion.

Brands and the widening class schism

The “K-shape recovery” of the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will spur further disparity between luxury and mass-market experiences. There will be genuine new luxury experiences, and branded mass-market experiences, with less of a focus on “premium mediocre” middle-class experiences and brands. A boom in entrepreneurship is expected to fuel these new experiences.

“What’s happening is we’re seeing two different types of middle class emerge,” said Brian Lange, co-founder of Future Commerce. “It’s not fully formed yet, but while we’re seeing the middle class shrink, maybe it’s that the middle class has split.”

Marketplaces such as Poshmark and Etsy have an opportunity to succeed here due to the thriftiness and creativity consumers have demonstrated in an economic downturn, as they aim to make and market their own wares. New small businesses have the opportunity to thrive—Future Commerce cites Business Insider data indicating that the number of new business applications launched reached a 13-year high in 2020.

Future Commerce notes that a “trusted brand” is now twice as important as luxury pedigree—while 16 of shoppers described the perfect T-shirt as coming from a luxury brand, 33 percent said the perfect T-shirt comes from a brand they know and trust.

The death and rebirth of neutrality

In a highly charged political climate, it appears brands can no longer afford to simply stay apolitical.  Customers now demand that brands support their causes and commit to real and lasting change. Efforts like the 15 Percent Pledge, which asks brands to commit to 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, have attracted support from retailers including Macy’s, Rent the Runway and Sephora.

With a change in administration, Future Commerce predicts there will be the return to a conversation around network neutrality, and it will go hand in hand with new regulation/policies that will focus on what can and can’t be published in public spaces.

More than half (57 percent) of consumers consider Facebook, Amazon and Google essential services at this point. Additionally, millennials have the highest expectations across generations for corporations to step in when government fails to act.

The age of fractional ownership

As many as 53 percent of consumers report investing in non-traditional securities this year; wine, luxury and designer goods, and fine jewelry topped the list. The rise of bitcoin investments is perhaps the biggest recent example of how consumers can now own small pieces of a major asset or currency.

In tune with recent changes from the CARES Act, the definition of “accredited investor” is becoming more inclusive to a broader populace. Now, businesses can raise up to $5 million from consumers.

Capitalism and the digital commons

In line with the decline of the traditional mall, the report predicts a future “return of the commons” as well as a “newfound need for a new commons.” Yet while 75 percent of consumers say they would rather interact with people at the park than at the mall, the privatization of common spaces—both physical and digital—has left people without spaces to express opinions and converse about ideas without fear.

The lack of common spaces along with increasing physical isolation is leading to growth in private and one-to-one interactions through digital channels.

“If we looked at retail as an integrated part of our communities, thinking of how much time you spend out at retail locations in your community, it’s a lot of time,” Lange said. “If we add digital play into that, think about what we could accomplish.”

Convergence of the meta and the physical

Traditional spaces are diminishing, and those that remain are changing. Retailers should look to the gaming world, with the popularity of immersive video games like Fortnite, to reimagine how physical retail experiences can be made virtual.

This can be very beneficial in a post-pandemic world where many customers may still be hesitant to reacquaint themselves with non-essential stores.

“Digital neighborhoods, or meta neighborhoods, that spark purchase intent are the new future,” Phillip Jackson, co-founder of Future Commerce, wrote in the report. “YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are cities unto themselves that contain neighborhoods of like-minded and interdependent brands.”

While only one in three consumers consider themselves “gamers,” 62 percent feel that online and offline have already converged to the point where they are projecting their whole, authentic selves at all times.