Thanks to Australia’s effective containment of coronavirus, our dynamic retail industry has been recovering and regrowing within varying degrees of the ‘new normal’ for months.
The recent snap lockdown in Brisbane, and similar instances across the nation, were short-term pauses on a gradual, longer-term journey into the ‘retail spring’.
The ripples from the pandemic will be felt for months and years to come, but a recovering economy, a reduced unemployment rate and growing consumer confidence are providing a very welcome glimpse of a new era of post-pandemic retail.
As it ventures into post-pandemic retail sooner than almost every other global market, the rest of the world is looking to Australia to lead by example.
This is what they might expect to see.
Mastering the omnichannel
Retail in 2020 was defined by the closure of brick-and-mortar businesses and a boom in ecommerce. Research from AusPost reveals that online purchases increased 57% in 2020, equating to online sales of an astonishing $50.46 billion.
Online sales represented 16.3% of retail sales, a share that wasn’t forecast until 2023.
Brick-and-mortar businesses reopened, and remain a vibrant and crucial part of communities across the country, but online buying habits are here for good.
Among the 1.3 million Australians who shopped online for the first time in 2020, almost half continued to buy online frequently throughout the year.
That doesn’t mean abandoning bricks-and-mortar, though; far from it, in fact.
Instead, omnichannel strategies will be essential to cater to this influx of new consumers and the evolving expectations of tech-savvy online shoppers.
For instance, listing in-store inventory online, developing loyalty programs, introducing click and collect, and using targeted social media marketing can help meet consumers’ desire to interact with brands across multiple channels and devices.
Cash, cashless or less-cash?
One of the steepest trends during the pandemic, and one that might never return to ‘normal’, was the transition from cash to cashless payment methods.
With the proliferation of smartphones and tap and go bank cards, contactless payments were by no means a new phenomenon, but one that accelerated rapidly.
Global payments platform FIS has forecast that by 2024 cash will account for just two percent of payments – down from 8.3% last year. While the use of contactless and mobile payments has increased, BNPL services continue to grow in popularity too.
Consumers are demanding greater flexibility when it comes to payments, making it essential for retailers to accept various forms of payments, including Apple Pay and Android Pay, and buy now, pay later solutions.
When competition is fierce and flexibility is the priority, not offering a range of payment options could be the difference between closing or losing a sale.
With global supply chains disrupted and backlogged, and Australians unequivocal in their support for local businesses, 2021 will see the supporting local sentiment take on even greater significance.
For smaller retailers, then, telling their story, playing the local game and encouraging customers to feel more personally connected to their brand will be the focus.
Retailers should promote their story, their products and the quality of materials, and why they make meaningful gifts.
A business’ mission and morals will become increasingly important, too ; if people feel more personally invested, they’ll be more inclined to support the journey.
Retail is built on community, and community may never be more important than today.
Retail’s golden age?
Australians are being more deliberate and conscientious with the brands they interact with, and are planning their store visits further in advance.
That means brands must be visible in the “research” phase of customer journeys and give shoppers a compelling reason to make purchases.
Tools like, for example, Pointy by Google – available through Vend – allows retailers to list their in-store inventory online, so they’re active during this increasingly-important research phase.
Far from the end of traditional bricks-and-mortar retail, Australia could be entering a ‘golden age’ of retail.
It’s an era in which sophisticated omnichannel strategies combine the best of targeted, smart ecommerce functions with the community, personalisation and customer experiences perfected by generations of highstreet retailers.
With technology more accessible and affordable than at any point in retail history, businesses of every size now have at their fingertips the capabilities to capitalise on every trend and set new standards in a golden age of retail.