The 2021 Effect: New Year, New Consumer Habits

Retail Marketing|Thought Leadership|Trends|

Ancient Greek philosophy reminds us, “The only constant in life is change.” While 2021 planning may feel like throwing darts while blindfolded, one thing is certain — the new year will bring new consumer habits and major opportunities to revamp the way we engage our audiences. 

Take a look at how COVID-consciousness has affected the major category of retail. A op-ed piece by Scott McKenzie, global head of the Nielsen Intelligence Unit, outlines five new types of holiday shoppers and what their differences mean for brands. For 2020, McKenzie foresees a pivotal shift in what we qualify as gift-worthy. Particularly, “Among the constrained groups, there will be opportunities for products not typically considered as living in the gift category. For example, ingredients that tie to a surge in home baking, increasingly expensive staples like fresh fruit, and DIY tools and supplies will be more than welcome for some this year.”

Meanwhile, Forbes is calling 2020 the first true “OmniHoliday” shopping experience. The article notes, “75% of the U.S.’s top 50 store-based retailers […] are offering curbside or in-store pick up.” Target, for instance, saw a 700% jump in curbside pickups in Q3. Tanger Outlets, which also offer contactless pickup, reopened their outdoor Centers to a 90% rebound of pre-COVID traffic averages. This blend of convenience shopping (online or in-app) with the instant gratification of same-day pickup satisfies our newly-upended hierarchy of needs — the safety of social distancing, the comfort of easily accessible essentials, and the escapism necessary to navigate a winter of uncertainty — and helps retailers cope with mandates for decreased occupancy. 

Online streaming services also underwent big changes. Zoom, the video conference platform now synonymous with that #wfhlife, reported that 2 trillion meeting minutes were logged in April 2020 between 300 million daily meeting participants in the same month. In their 2020 wrapup, Spotify announced a more than 1,400% increase in work-from-home themed playlists and a 180% increase in tune-ins to health and wellness podcasts. Our habits also reflected a global awakening to social justice, with more than 64 million streams of Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist; users created another 65,000 playlists in honor of the movement.

Shoppers are putting their money to work for causes, as well. Instagram users have tagged more than 7.5 million posts with #blackownedbusiness. This mainstreaming of minority-owned brands is reflected in our spending — Yelp reported a 7,043% YOY increase in searches for Black-owned businesses from May 25 to June 10. Of the 1.1 million minority-owned U.S. small businesses, McKinsey & Company estimates they employ more than 8.7 million workers and generate $1+ trillion per year. Last month, an American Express study revealed, “88% of U.S. consumers feel a personal commitment to support small businesses in the wake of the pandemic.” The same study estimated that small businesses recommended by our friends via social media could generate up to $197 billion in sales by end of year. Special hours, private shopping appointments, and local deliveries made by employees are among the top ways owners are working to meet this increased demand. 

Examining how we shop is one thing, but understanding why is a much bigger task. More than ever, consumers are blurring the line between FOMO and YOLO, debating on a case-by-case basis whether the risk of an in-store purchase or an out-of-state trip is worth the reward. Etsy has tapped into the heart of the matter with their latest campaign, Gift Like You Mean It. As we rethink purchases and put more emphasis on finding unique items, we also ease some of the guilt and wistful thinking that comes from missing out on cherished traditions. It’s not all dark days ahead, however. Barb, our CMO, summed up the current market climate with this positive perception: America is a consuming country. We want convenience, sure, but we need the entertainment and socialization aspects of shopping as well. 

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