New From NRF 2021: Retail Marketing’s Need-to-Know Trends


Credit: Getty Images by Luis Alvarez

For the first time in history, NRF Chapter 1 went virtual. The highly anticipated event saw industry leaders reflect on one of retail’s most turbulent years to date. Consumer shopping behaviors changed seemingly overnight: in-store foot traffic shrunk at an alarming rate, e-commerce and mobile shopping trends boomed, and spending habits prioritized needs over wants. It all left retail marketers scrambling to understand how to retarget these new “pandemic personas,” with many pivoting promotional plans and exhibiting agility at a never-before-seen scale. And it all left much to discuss and debate at NRF 2021. Let’s explore the three need-to-know retail marketing trends that emerged at this year’s show, and what they mean for retail marketers as we navigate the road ahead.

E-Commerce Sales Will Be Off to a Slow Start. Plan Accordingly.

NetElixir forecasts year-over-year e-commerce growth for 2021 to be muted at 9 percent, which can be attributed to three factors: spike in returns due to impulse purchases during the 2020 holiday season, ongoing inventory issues, and the pandemic’s continuing effect of economic uncertainty and uneven demand.

NRF hosted a few interesting sessions that explored strategies around how brands and marketers could better engage with existing customers as well as attract new ones to their online platforms. Given the muted forecast, now is the time for marketers to take a hard look at the online shopping experiences that their brands are offering to consumers and make sure that they’re intuitive and dynamic. It will also be imperative to track buying behaviors to stay on top of online inventory.

And think broader than just the online shopping experience. Smart marketers will take advantage of “social shopping” campaigns in the months ahead, effectively utilizing key social platforms to stay top of mind with their target customer demographic during what may still be considered a slower e-commerce sales period.

New-to-Online Shoppers Are Here to Stay. It’s Time to Learn Their Unique Behavioral Patterns

COVID-19 forced consumers who typically shopped in-store to enter the e-commerce scene. Interestingly, these consumers behaved differently than those who were accustomed to e-commerce platforms. In fact, according to NetElixir data, new-to-online shoppers visit websites 16 percent more frequently prior to first purchase due to hesitation caused by the newness of the experience. They also take more time to research products and pricing. The longer window-to-purchase causes many of these new-to-online shoppers to hit a lower first order value. However, once the shoppers complete the first interaction and become more acquainted with the online shopping experience, they quickly behave with more confidence. NetElixir data shows that the time it takes to make their second purchase decreases and the order value is higher.

With online shopping expected to play a major role in driving sales, retailers and marketers would do well to get to know these new-to-online shoppers and build in tactics to target them in the new year. Retailers will have to elevate to be more cognitive of consumer needs and provide a fulfilling brand experience wherever they shop, according to a NRF session led by Capgemini. Knowing and understanding unique behavioral patterns will be key to creating personalized, targeted campaigns that appropriately, and effectively, welcome them to the online shopping experience.

Uncertainty Will Remain the No. 1 Challenge for Retail Marketers to Navigate

If 2020 taught retail marketers anything, it’s that consumer behavior isn’t predictable. The pandemic forced retailers to pay closer attention to live consumer and sales data, and to apply the actionable insights that they derive from that data to run agile campaigns. The integration of experiences across marketing campaigns will be imperative to increase customer engagement and loyalty throughout the year. With experiences playing a major role in customer loyalty, marketers should plan to execute activations across the brand to get consumer feedback. Given how quickly consumer behaviors can change, very few retailers can cross this chasm of uncertainty alone.

At NRF 2021, it became clear, if it wasn’t already apparent, that retail marketers must remain agile and prioritize the customer above all else in the months ahead. Now is the time to be attentive to behavioral shopping shifts, be mindful of inventory trends, and take time to understand consumer attitudes. The consumer has spoken; now it’s time for retail marketers to help make them feel validated.


I agree to have my personal information transfered to AWeber ( more information )
Join over 3.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn how to optimize your blog for search engines, find free traffic, and monetize your website.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.