2021 was marked by a flurry of transactions with the UK’s third and fourth biggest retailers Asda and Morrisons snapped up, and growth players such as Moonpig, Made.com and InTheStyle making their debut on the stock market. But what will 2022 bring?
Retail Gazette pinpoints the three big topics that will dominate retail over the next year.
The shift to online and changing face of the high street
The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated consumers’ use of online and experts believe this shift to ecommerce is a permanent one.
Although Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at footfall analytics firm Springboard, believes there will be some return to stores in 2022 she says visitor numbers are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“We expect footfall to remain at least 10% lower than the pre-Covid level in 2022,” she says.
This shift to online has led many retailers to reshape their business with the likes of M&S and John Lewis closing store in the face of growing online sales. Meanwhile, brands such as TM Lewin and Cath Kidston have opted to sell online only.
This trend is likely to continue. The Centre for Retail Research, which found that a total of 11,047 stores closed in 2021, expects every retailer to review their estate and make decisions about how many stores they will need to meet face-to-face demand in 2024.
As well as how much space is needed, retailers will also need to determine the role the store plays in the shopping journey and the experience it provides, says Deloitte head of UK retail Oliver Vernon-Harcourt.
“With consumers seeking experiences that cut across both physical and digital spaces, retailers are asking what this means for the store experience. Does a physical shop actually need to sell?”
Wehrle says the big challenge for bricks-and-mortar retailers will be integrating online and stores to create a “seamless experience for shoppers”.
Meanwhile, Andrew Goodacre, chief executive at British Independent Retailers Association, is urging its members to embrace multichannel to keep up with online competition.
“We are urging indies to adopt a hybrid business model to make the best of both types of shopping,” he says.
Retailers will undoubtedly need to evolve with the consumer to hold onto their brand relevance in 2022 and beyond. Sustainability will rise up the agenda as conscious consumerism evolves.
Vernon-Harcourt told Retail Gazette says more consumers will make purchasing decisions based on sustainability.
“They’ll want fewer, more sustainable new items and to be able to reuse them when possible,” he says
“For retailers, this will mean embedding more ‘re-commerce’ within current business models, enabling consumers to rent, recycle and repurpose.
“Retailers are seeing this as an opportunity to differentiate: authentic climate action plans are likely to strengthen consumer loyalty.”
Ebay UK general manager, Murray Lambell explains that major socio-political moments, like COP26, have accelerated the growth of conscious consumerism.
“We’ve also seen a significant rise in the supply and demand of pre-loved, refurbished and second-hand products, with many recognising the win-win of buying the brands they love at a lower cost to them and the planet,” he said.
Emily Salter, senior analyst at GlobalData, expects that resale and rental will continue to grow in popularity, with established players such as Hurr and Vestiaire Collective growing.
Mark Dodds, chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s food, drink and agriculture sector interest group, expects that retailers will take a “green” angle in their marketing activity.
However, alongside a greater awareness in ethics, is also a greater awareness of greenwashing. Dodds says retailers will need to really prove their green claims going forward.
“It would be reassuring to see the industry really focusing on the plant-based movement and sustainability pledges, to prove that it was not simply jumping on the ‘going green’ bandwagon,” he says.
Supply chain disruption
The UK’s supply chain underwent massive stress in 2021, as vacancies for lorry drivers and warehouse workers rocketed.
This inevitably led to retailers – particularly grocers – struggling to stock their shelves.
Lambell expects supply chain issues to continue into 2022, however, he believes that retailers can overcome this.
“To say these challenges are insurmountable would be incorrect – our sellers on eBay UK are proof of this,” he tells Retail Gazette.
Vernon-Harcourt warns that the ongoing supply chain disruption could lead to price rises in more exposed categories, such as electronic goods.
Dodds adds that retailers will find they can no longer suppress price increases, which will inevitably then be passed onto the consumer.
Much like 2021, retail must expect the unexpected in 2022. Businesses will need to be prepared for any situation, and have supply chains, warehouses, store leases and distribution channels that can pivot as required.