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The future is now: retail reimagined

newsJanuary 14, 2021 By Lizette Williams

This article has been written by Lizette Williams, Head of Global Vertical Solutions Marketing, Facebook

In 2020, COVID-19 transformed shopping as we knew it and shopper expectations along with it. Countrywide lockdowns, non-essential retail restrictions and the risk of contracting the virus accelerated e-commerce adoption by up to five years, according to IBM estimates.1

This transitional year, underscored shopper demands for frictionless omnichannel shopping experiences with an added complexity of safety; while also forcing retailers to quickly rethink traditional models at lightning speed. The future has arrived. Consumer behavior has forced retailers to adapt to new ways of how consumers are discovering, considering and purchasing products. Are you ready?

Here are five key insights that will best prepare you to navigate the current landscape:

As consumer spending returns, pandemic habits persist

After a year of diminished demand and paused purchasing, shoppers are now becoming more open to spending on non-essential items both big and small. In October 2020, 33% of US consumers say they are willing to spend money on luxury or high-end items (+9 points from May 2020), and 48% say they are seeking out small indulgences (e.g., nice soaps/lotions, candles, etc.) to treat themselves (+9 points from May 2020).2 However, as spending levels start to normalize back to pre-pandemic levels, new shopping habits continue to persist. In fact, 82% of consumers globally have changed shopping habits since the pandemic started, and among those who’ve changed habits, 92% say they plan to continue these habits after the pandemic ends.3

Shopping is evolving into a hybrid reality

More and more, consumers are blending the best of online and in-store to enhance their overall shopping experience. In the US, omnichannel shopping grew by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic.4 And mobile is central to this cross-channel behavior. Nearly two-third (66%) of global shoppers say their mobile device has become their most important shopping tool, and 63% say social media has become as important as other sources when making product purchase decisions.5 Social commerce has shifted how consumers discover new products and sparked moments of excitement and connection previously only found after walking through physical doors.

New digital formats are emerging to recreate the benefits of offline shopping in a completely virtual environment. For example, live commerce is a growing trend in which consumers are able to see immersive product demonstrations and reviews via live-streams. This shopping method has seen massive success in China and shows growth potential in other markets - nearly half (49%) of online shoppers say they would buy products directly from live videos where brands, celebrities or influencers they follow are launching new products.5 Messaging is also enabling in-store-like consultation in a digital, on-demand format. Some 59% of global shoppers say they want to connect directly with brands through messaging services to place orders and complete purchases.5

Consumers are turning their living rooms into fitting rooms

Consumers still value being able to physically experience products before committing to purchase. As a result, shoppers are maximizing delivery and returns processes to transform their homes into showrooms. Logistics are influencing purchase decisions with 61% of shoppers globally saying delivery time is very important when determining where to shop, and 65% saying seamless return policies influence where they shop.6 Because of this, consumers are trialing products at home to inform their final purchase decision, with 42% of online shoppers globally saying they sometimes order several different items online with the intention of trying and returning the ones they don’t like.5

Beyond shipping and returns, shoppers are embracing new technologies like augmented and virtual reality to truly immerse themselves into products. Notably, 61% of online shoppers say they want to virtually try on products from the comfort of my own home.5 This technology is showing signs of growth. Among those who’ve tried AR/VR to explore products or services, 46% of consumers said they’ve done this for the first time since the pandemic started.2

In-store shopping has become more efficient and intentional

Despite e-commerce’s growing prominence, it’s still projected that 80.5% of total retail sales worldwide in 2021 will still take place in physical stores.7 However, consumers’ needs are shifting when it comes to in-store shopping. Driven by the demand for an expedited brick-and-mortar experience, consumers are now looking for more efficiency. Some 44% of in-store consumers in the US say a fast or express checkout would significantly improve their shopping experience.5 This demand has given rise to offerings such as self-checkout, curbside pickup and click and collect services.

Not only are shoppers looking to retailers to provide these conveniences, they are also planning their store visits in advance with the help of online resources. About two-thirds of shoppers say most of their shopping decisions are planned as opposed to spontaneous.6 Additionally, 55% of US shoppers say they often look at fashion items online before buying them in-store.8

Building loyalty now requires a multifaceted strategy

Digital discovery and social commerce is paving the way for experimentation with new retailers and brands, disrupting loyalty and creating new opportunities to win the hearts and minds of new shoppers. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen a strong drop in loyalty toward both physical retailers (-10 pts from Dec. 2019 to August 2020) and online retailers (-5 pts. from Dec. 2019 to August 2020).9

Just as consumer shopping decisions have gotten more complex, so has retaining shoppers long-term. Increasingly, loyalty is won by more than just affordability—though that remains key—and is driven by additional factors, such as availability (e.g., inventory), accessibility (e.g., communication), and assurances (e.g., safety measures).

As we embark on a new year of optimism fueled by the hope for mass vaccine accessibility, brands and retailers will need to reimagine their strategies to account for new consumer expectations and behaviors. A change in approach from “acquiring new customers” to now “retaining valuable shoppers” will be a critical shift. The future has, in fact, arrived.


  1. IBM US Retail Index, Aug 2020
  2. “Industry Micro-Shifts Monthly Tracker” by Kantar Profiles (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 193,011 adults across AU, BR, CA, DE, ES, FR, HK, ID, IN, IT, JP, KR, MX, TW, UK, US), May–Oct 2020. Unless otherwise specified, data is a cross-country average across all 16 markets.
  3. “Global CPG Re-emerge Study” by Ipsos (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 44,899 people ages 18+ across AU, BR, CA, DE, FR, IN, JP, MX, SK, TH, UK, US), Jul–Aug 2020.
  4. Nielsen Connect’s Omnichannel Shopping Fundamentals Study, 2020
  5. “Discovery-Led Shopping Study” by GFK (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 12,063 people ages 18+ across AU, BR, CA, DE, FR, ID, IN, JP, MX, SK, UK, US Jul–Aug 2020)
  6. “Global Retail Re-emerge Study” by Ipsos (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 43,474 people ages 18+ across AU, BR, CA, DE, FR, IN, JP, MX, SK, TH, UK, US), Jul–Aug 2020.
  7. eMarketer Retail & Ecommerce Sales Forecasts, Worldwide, Dec. 2020
  8. “Fashion Consumer Journey Study” by Kantar Profiles (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 1,179 respondents ages 18-64, US, 2020)
  9. Data change is based on the difference between two studies: 1) “Global Omnichannel Retail Study” by Ipsos (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 56,102 people ages 18+ across, AU, BR, CA, DE, FR, ID, IN, JP, MX, SK, UK, US, Dec 2019 to Jan 2020) and 2) “Global Retail Re-emerge Study” by Ipsos (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 43,474 people ages 18+ across AU, BR, CA, DE, FR, IN, JP, MX, SK, TH, UK, US), Jul–Aug 2020.