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Copycat culture and what next trends for retail in 2021

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

From imitation to innovation

Our recent CX report conducted with over 500 CX leaders showed that, since Covid 88% of retail brands said that their businesses were taking more risks than before. As physical stores closed their doors on customers, Retail brands genuinely needed to reconnect to their customer base, to understand how their needs had changed. It does therefore come as somewhat of a surprise, and let’s face it, contradiction that the biggest driver for CX investment in the past 15 months has actually been... copying competitors.


And so far this approach has allowed many brands not only to survive, but thrive. We have seen reports that businesses have progressed exponentially on their transformation roadmap due to the reliance on digital channels, some saying that they have seen 3-4 years of digital growth in just over 12 months, which from a purely business point of view, is one positive to come out of this pandemic.


This tactic of copying competitors has ultimately led to assimilation between brands and the experience they offer. It may seem like an effective and rational plan to copy the market leader as they spend time and resources on research and development, market testing, product refinement only to follow their lead at a fraction of the cost. This kind of behaviour only leads to brands playing catch-up, waiting for the next ‘trend’ to happen, and it is the customer who ultimately suffers.


So why is this a problem? Surely a friction free experience that works is all a customer requires at the end of the day? Not so. According to a Gartner survey, 81% of brands compete mostly or completely on the basis of CX, making CX a key competitive differentiator between brands. This is because customers are looking for brands that go the extra mile to delight them in unexpected and useful ways. Customers are at their happiest when they are advocates, but to become advocates they need some distinct USPs to shout about!


As stores closed during COVID customers were forced online. These very same, newly trained, digitally savvy customers are now back on the streets and their experience expectations have somewhat changed. They will demand more simplicity, more choice around product AND delivery, more payment options, more ease of returns and transparency from brands, better personalised service on their terms, and all this on their chosen channels, regardless of whether they are online, in app or in store.


So what’s next? When most brands have played catch up, and got there in record time, how can they build on this success and offer customers the next level of experience?

1. Physical stores to become more experiential

The potential of physical location will be key to providing product led, unique in-store experiences. Brick-and-mortar stores will probably sell less post Covid, but what they will offer is an opportunity to provide value by strengthening customers’ relationship to the brand. Immersive, Instagrammable experiences, aka “retailtainment,” can bring the brand alive in a way that digital means can’t. In Nike’s Time Square flagship store there is a basketball court with cameras to record shots and treadmills with screens mimicking famous running routes, all unique socially shareable experiences, rather than traditional sales venues. If used correctly, stores could complement online experiences and bring a brand to life, in a not so distant future vision, it’s not difficult to see Oxford Street in London become the new retailtainment theme park. 2. Online Stores on the highstreet

We’ve already seen Amazon create offline experiences that leverage the technology and convenience of ecommerce. It makes sense that other brands will follow this successful model. Amazon Fresh Grocery Store brings the ease and accessibility of ecommerce to brick-and-mortar grocery shopping. The Amazon Fresh grocery store offers same-day delivery and pickup, as well as package pickup and returns. No more queues, no more carrying heavy bags on the tube home. Also, online retailer Casper opened a physical store pre covid which offered customers the chance to hire private sleeping pods in its New York experiential store. The emphasis was on the customer experience and positive benefits of the product, try before you buy as well as raising brand awareness and increasing sales touch points. Digital brands opening stores to sell apparel or products allowing shoppers the benefit of interacting with the product in person. It also allows digital brands physical stores without conforming to the retail chain model which has been the undoing of many brands historically.

3. Social Commerce

Taking your product into the areas where your customers naturally relax has always been the retail holy grail. Social commerce offers shoppers an even more seamless way to shop online. It also offers brands an incredible opportunity to forge longer lasting relationships with customers in a more natural way. It removes the need for customers to leave their happy place and click through to a third-party website, but instead allows them to make purchases right from the social media app or site without disrupting the users flow. Pinterest for example has just debuted a new ‘Shopping List’ feature which saves all product pins automatically into one place, making it easier for them to come back and shop the items, when they’re ready to buy. The saved shopping pins will showcase details, such as price, reviews and shipping, and also display a Verified Merchant blue tick for brands that make the grade. We’ve already seen partnerships between TikTok and Shopify, WeChat in the Asian market, Facebook shops, even in-game shopping on Playstation. There are countless other variations on the theme, and the trend looks to be gaining even more momentum in 2021.

4. AR helping make informed decisions

Augmented reality (AR), machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) are fast becoming an essential part of retailers’ ecommerce offerings. The majority of customers have embraced digital shopping channels and will continue to rely on online shopping. Brands look towards AR technology to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical with more potential customers seeking out those AR experiences to make critical purchase decisions. Shopify has recently introduced Shopify AR, an easy-to-use toolkit for businesses to create their own AR experiences, to showcase their products to customers. Shopify reports that interactions with products having AR content showed a colossal 94% higher conversion rate than products without AR.

5. Ethical and Values-Based Brands on the Rise According to Forrester, 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their own values. Customers are increasingly evaluating products and brands based on a company’s ethics and values, with a reported 40% of consumers actively seeking to buy from a company associated with social, environmental, and political ideals. It also seems to be a critical driver for business growth and also authentic customer engagement. It is however difficult to just embed brand values into brands, customers still need to see actions over words, but businesses genuinely adopting this approach show more potential to succeed in gaining lasting customer loyalty and trust.

6. Same-Day Delivery and Instant access to financial products As Freddy Mercury once sang: ‘I want it all, and I want it now.’ Little did he know at the time he would be defining a customer's attitude in the year 2021. Fulfillment on the products and services a customer needs is a critical part of the customer ecosystem, and, in part, same-day shipping pioneered Amazon’s success story. PwC reports that 88% of consumers are willing to pay for same-day or faster delivery. From Amazon’s Prime Air — which uses drone technology to deliver shopper’s orders in 30 minutes or less — to the rise of delivery robot startups, delivery is only getting faster. It’s not that same day shipping is a new concept, it’s just it’s almost become the expected.

7. Brand partnerships What better way to offer your customers more, than to plug in another brand’s proposition? Early examples of this included high street coffee shops in bookstores and Pharmacies in superstores, all originally conceived to add more value to the business, and over a better and more holistic customer experience. Recently, we have seen some partnerships between Starbucks and Spotify to extend the coffee shop vibe wherever you are, B&Q in ASDA stores for when you need a power saw to cut through your unripened avocados and OVO Energy and EV car rental firm Vanarama allowing ethically minded customers to ditch diesel. 8. Livestreaming shopping

In China, Live streaming E-Commerce is promoting and selling goods through influencer streams on their own social media channels, most often housed on China’s online shopping malls, and it’s fast becoming the most talked about ‘next’ retail experience. It’s similar to home shopping networks, but much more trendy, it’s also described as part infomercial, part variety show, truly ticking the box of ‘Retailtainment’. Live Streaming could live within social media channels such as Facebook, Tik Tok and YouTube, currently products promoted are primarily cosmetics and beauty, fashion, and food. But Live streaming is another way for brands, both large and small to gain awareness on the channels the customer chooses. Blending entertainment and shopping is definitely something we will be seeing more of in the near future.


Whatever happens in the next 12 months we are pretty certain it will not be on the scale of the previous 15 months. But that said, as brands take stock and product teams pop their heads over the trenches, the new battlefield is set for innovation, not imitation. Blending online and offline into one seamless experience is the brief, understanding how a customer lives within this nonlinear journey and how to assist and predict them is the true challenge.


If you’d like to read what 500 CX leaders in the UK are saying on the state of CX in the Retail and Finance industry, get insights into successful CX programme approaches and understand the drivers behind them, then please click here.

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